SJC allows woman's suit for marijuana firing to proceed

Claudine Rigal
Juillet 18, 2017

Massachusetts' top court on Monday ruled that a woman who had been fired for testing positive for marijuana that she had been legally prescribed under state law could sue her former employer for handicap discrimination.

"Massachusetts is not a state where such protections are written in the law so this is really significant".

Advantage Sales and Marketing argued before the court that it was justified in firing Barbuto because marijuana is illegal under federal law, and that permitting her to use it, even outside of work hours, exceeded the "reasonable accommodation" required by anti-discrimination laws that protect workers with disabilities. Her legal team said she got the job in 2014 and, prior to a drug test, informed managers she would test positive for marijuana.

The unanimous six-judge panel's ruling noted that only the employee, not the company, could have been subject to prosecution under federal law for her drug use.

Cristina Barbuto was sacked after her first day promoting products in a supermarket for Advantage Sales and Marketing in 2014.

In a similar case, Coats v. Dish Network, the Colorado Supreme Court did decide that companies can fire workers for using medical marijuana outside the workplace. She did not use marijuana daily nor would she consume it before or during work, according to court documents. It upheld the dismissal of other claims.

The ruling reversed a decision that dismissed Barbuto's 2015 handicap discrimination claim against the company. Barbuto suffers from a gastrointestinal condition called Chron's Disease, for which she used products containing THC to manage her symptoms.

"We have not yet had the opportunity to litigate the plaintiff's remaining claim on the merits, but we are confident that our client acted in accordance with the law", Michael Clarkson, the attorney, said in a statement.

MA voters approved the medicinal use of marijuana in 2012, joining the majority of USA states that allow for the drug's medical use. Monday, the justices of the Supreme Judicial Court determined that her case will be allowed to move forward.

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