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Superior Court Rules Pennsylvania Employees Can Sue For Medical Marijuana Discrimination

On Behalf of | Oct 28, 2021 | Firm News

On August 5, 2021, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act (“MMA”) allows medical marijuana patients to sue their employers for wrongful discharge or other forms of discrimination based on their status as a licensed medical marijuana user. Needless to say, this is a massive win for medical marijuana patients statewide.

The case is Scranton Quincy Clinic Co. v. Palmiter, 498 MDA 2020 J-A07009-21 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 5, 2021). In her lawsuit, the plaintiff, Pamela Palmiter, alleged that she was a licensed medical marijuana user who was fired from her job at Moses Taylor Hospital in January 2019 after testing positive for marijuana on an employment-related drug test. Prior to her drug test, Palmiter informed the lab and her employer that she was a licensed medical marijuana user and would likely test positive for marijuana.

A month after being fired, Palmiter filed a lawsuit in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas alleging, among other claims, that her termination was a violation of the PA Medical Marijuana Act. Specifically, she claimed that the Hospital violated the following section of the MMA:

“[n]o employer may discharge, threaten, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against an employee regarding an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location or privileges solely on the basis of such employee’s status as an individual who is certified to use medical marijuana.” 35 P.S. § 10231.2103(b)(1).

The Hospital filed preliminary objections, attempting to dismiss the lawsuit. The Hospital argued that, despite the above language, the MMA does not expressly allow medical marijuana patients to sue their employers for medical marijuana discrimination. Without an expressly granted right to sue for a violation of this section, the Hospital argued, Palmiter’s lawsuit could not go forward.

The Lackawanna Court of Common Pleas disagreed with the Hospital and ruled that Palmiter’s MMA discrimination claim could go forward. The Hospital appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which is an appellate court whose decisions apply statewide.

On August 5, 2021, a 3-member panel of the Superior Court held that the above-quoted language in the MMA creates an implied cause of action. That’s a fancy legal way of saying that the legislature intended patients to be able to sue for medical marijuana discrimination even though the legislature didn’t expressly say so. Typically, every section of a statute is interpreted to have meaning and effect. If the legislature didn’t want to prohibit medical marijuana discrimination in the workplace, why include the above language? The court cannot simply ignore it. For these reasons, the Superior Court held that an employee who is discriminated against at work because of his status as a medical marijuana user may sue his or her employer under the MMA. What the Superior Court did not decide, however, is what the statute of limitations is and what kind of damages an employee can recover. Those issued will likely be resolved in future cases.

Perhaps just as importantly, the Superior Court also held that Palmiter could bring a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, a tort. The Court held that the above-quoted language from the MMA creates a strong and clear public policy prohibiting workplace discrimination based on one’s status as a medical marijuana user. Importantly, this part of the Superior Court’s decision gives employees a second means by which to assert their right to be free from workplace medical marijuana discrimination.

If you have been fired, suspended, or denied a job because of your status as a medical marijuana user, contact Mansour Law today to see how we can help.

To read the Superior Court’s decision in this case, click here.