Eastern District of Pennsylvania Provides Critical Guidance on Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act
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Eastern District of Pennsylvania Provides Critical Guidance on Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania provided critical guidance concerning the requirements for a plaintiff to assert a claim under the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act

  • Specifically, an employee must show discrimination on the basis of his or her status as a certified medical marijuana user, which led to termination

  • This is one of the first opinions analyzing the requirements for an employee to succeed on a claim of discrimination under the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act

 

On October 19, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Reynolds v. Willert Mfg. Co., LLC, provided important guidance on the protections afforded to certified medical marijuana users by the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act (PMMA). The PMMA prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against an employee “solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.”

In Reynolds, following acceptance of an offer of employment conditioned on passing a drug test, the plaintiff tested positive for marijuana. The testing center’s medical review officer contacted the person who performed the test as well as the plaintiff, who testified that he told the officer that he was a medical marijuana patient. The defendant terminated the plaintiff’s employment. The plaintiff did not notify the defendant that he was a medical marijuana patient until after the defendant’s employee finished reading the plaintiff’s termination letter to the plaintiff.

In granting summary judgment to the defendant, Judge Leeson reached important legal conclusions regarding the interpretation of the PMMA’s employment protections. Specifically, Judge Leeson concluded that the statute protects an employee’s status as a certified medical marijuana user, not the employee’s actual use thereof. Judge Leeson continued, finding that the Pennsylvania Legislature’s decision to prohibit discrimination “solely on the basis” of a protected class in the PMMA, as opposed to “because of” a protected class as used in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), evinces an intent by the Legislature that the PMMA require a but-for causal connection between the employee’s status and the adverse employment action. This eliminates the motivating factor test available under the PHRA for PMMA claims. Taken together, to succeed on a claim of discrimination under the PMMA, an employee must show: “(1) he was discriminated against on the basis of his status as a cardholder, and (2) that but for his status, he would not have been terminated.”

Turning to the facts of Reynolds, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could not find that the plaintiff was discriminated against solely on the basis of his status as a medical marijuana user. Specifically, Judge Leeson first concluded that the plaintiff failed to show that the defendant even knew of the plaintiff’s status at the time of his termination, as no one (including the plaintiff, drug tester, and medical review officer) notified the defendant of his status prior to the defendant making the decision to terminate the plaintiff. Although the plaintiff did notify the drug tester and the medical review officer, Judge Leeson concluded that this was insufficient, as the drug tester and medical review officer had no agency relationship with the defendant.

While this opinion appears to be good news for employers, the PMMA is a new law that continues to evolve. Pennsylvania employers must still be mindful not to discriminate against employees solely based on their status of medical marijuana cardholders. If you have any questions about this development or how it could impact your business, please contact: