Medical Marijuana in the Workplace: Critical Update after New Jersey Supreme Court Opinion in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc.

Medical Marijuana in the Workplace:  Critical Update after New Jersey Supreme Court Opinion in Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc.

On March 10, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision that employees terminated from their jobs as a result of their proper medical use of marijuana can bring a disability discrimination claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”). In Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., the Court considered whether Plaintiff Justin Wild’s unlawful discrimination suit against his former employer, Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. (“Carriage”), pursuant to the LAD was properly dismissed after Plaintiff asserted that he was protected as a qualified medical marijuana user under the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (the “Act”).

Plaintiff claimed that after he began working for Carriage in 2013 as a licensed funeral director, he was subsequently diagnosed with cancer and prescribed marijuana by his physician pursuant to the Act. In 2016, while working a funeral, the vehicle that Plaintiff was driving was struck by another vehicle that ran a stop sign. Following the accident, Plaintiff was hospitalized and advised his treating physician that he had a license to possess medical marijuana. The treating physician opined that it was clear that Plaintiff was not under the influence of marijuana and declined to conduct a blood test; however, Defendant David Feeney, the Director of Carriage, indicated that Plaintiff would need a test to return to work.   Several days later, Feeney terminated Plaintiff on behalf of Carriage because “drugs” had been found in Plaintiff’s “system.” Subsequently, a rumor spread within the Bergen County Funeral Directors’ Association that Plaintiff was terminated from Carriage because he was a “drug addict.”

In affirming the judgment of the Appellate Division, the Court concurred that Plaintiff stated a LAD claim sufficient to survive the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint. The Court found that there is no conflict between the Act and the LAD. Here, where the Act authorized Plaintiff’s use of medical marijuana outside the workplace, the Act allowed Plaintiff to assert a LAD claim for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate following the termination of his employment.   The Court noted that two provisions of the Act may affect a LAD discrimination or failure to accommodate claim. First, the Act does not require employers to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any workplace.  Second, the Act does not permit an employee to operate, navigate, or be in actual physical control of any vehicle, aircraft, train, stationary heavy equipment, or other vessel while under the influence of marijuana. The Court noted that if the circumstances giving rise to a LAD disability discrimination claim implicate either one or both of those provisions of the Act, a Plaintiff’s LAD claim may be adversely impacted.

A full copy of the Court’s decision can be found here: https://www.njcourts.gov/attorneys/assets/opinions/supreme/a_91_18.pdf?c=5Ux. It is critical to understand how the LAD and the Act intersect in order to ensure compliance with both laws and to review your company’s anti-discrimination and drug testing policies. If you have any questions or concerns about medical marijuana in the workplace, please reach out to the Employment and Labor Practice Group at Laddey, Clark & Ryan, LLP: Thomas N. Ryan Esq. (tryan@lcrlaw.com), Ursula H. Leo, Esq. (uleo@lcrlaw.com), or Nicole C. Tracy, Esq. (ntracy@lcrlaw.com). Our attorneys can also be reached by phone at (973) 729-1880.