A Rhode Island textile company will appeal a court ruling that says it discriminated against a medical marijuana user by denying her a job. In 2014, Darlington Fabrics Corp. denied a paid internship to Christine Callaghan after she revealed that she was legally using medical marijuana as a treatment for migraines.
Callaghan, a master's degree student at the University of Rhode Island, said that the incident forced her to disclose her medical condition and MMJ use to her professors, and delayed her ability to graduate on time. The ACLU filed a lawsuit on Callaghan's behalf, arguing that refusing to hire a medical marijuana user violated both the state's Civil Rights Act and the medical marijuana law.
Associate Justice Richard A. Licht found the company guilty of both violations. The company argued that Callaghan was not protected under the state Civil Rights Act because she was not protected under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Licht ruled that the state's legal definition of disability is broader than the federal one, protecting anyone with “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more . . . major life activities.”
Attorneys for Darlington argued that Callaghan was denied a job because she was unable to pass a drug screening test, not because she had a medical marijuana card. Licht called this argument “incredulous,” noting that a “recreational user could cease smoking long enough to pass the drug test and get hired . . . allowing him or her to smoke recreationally to his or her heart’s content. The medical user, however, would not be able to cease for long enough to pass the drug test, even though his or her use is necessary.”
“This decision sends a strong message that people with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities because of the medication they take,” said Callaghan's attorney, Carly Beauvais Iafrate. “If employers were permitted to discriminate against those using medical marijuana, then the good work done by those to enact the law will be completely undone. The judge’s decision makes clear that this law is not an empty promise.”
This week, Darlington's attorney said that the company will appeal the decision to Rhode Island's highest court.