A Rhode Island judge denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges a textile company discriminated against a graduate student when she was denied a two-month internship because she uses medical marijuana to treat migraine headaches. Lawyers for Westerly-based Darlington Fabrics Corp. and its parent firm, Moore Company, told Providence Superior Court Judge Richard Licht that the company declined to hire Christine Callaghan based on her use of medical marijuana, not on her status as a medical marijuana cardholder, making a distinction between the two.
Attorney Tim Cavazza, who represents Darlington Fabrics, said an employer is not required under the state’s medical marijuana act to accommodate or condone medical marijuana use. “Someone could surely be a medical marijuana card holder and abstain to obtain that internship,” Cavazza said.
But the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Callaghan, told the judge that failing to hire Callaghan based on her cardholder status is discriminatory because the law protects a cardholder, and thereby, a user. Ultimately, Licht said he believes the Rhode Island General Assembly meant to protect both medical marijuana cardholders and medical marijuana users under the state statute.
Carly Iafrate, the attorney who filed the lawsuit for Callaghan, said she believes it’s the first lawsuit of its kind in the state. This case is unique because Rhode Island’s statute explicitly says employers cannot refuse to hire people based on their cardholder status, whereas other states’ laws do not, Iafrate said. Employment discrimination lawsuits have appeared in other states that have legalized medical marijuana. Patients who have been fired, disciplined or denied a job after testing positive for the drug have previously sued in states including New Mexico, Maine, Colorado and New Jersey.
Rhode Island legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2006, although pot is still illegal under federal law. To use it, patients must get a doctor’s OK and an identification card from the state. According to the lawsuit filed in superior court, Callaghan received her medical marijuana card in February 2013.
The lawsuit said Callaghan was looking for an internship for credit toward her master’s degree over the summer, and a professor connected her with Darlington Fabrics. After working out the details of the paid, for-credit internship, she was asked to meet with the company’s human resources department. The lawsuit said the meeting was a formality and prior to it, “all indications were that Callaghan would have the position.”
During that meeting, she disclosed that she had a medical condition and held a medical marijuana card, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit further said Callaghan told human resources she would only use the drug outside the workplace to treat her headaches. She said she would not bring it to the company or use it before work.
A few days later, the lawsuit said, she was called by two company employees who told her “they could not employ Callaghan because of her status as a medical marijuana patient.” The lawsuit said the company’s actions violated state law that protects qualified medical marijuana users from employment discrimination.
Iafrate said the next step is filing discovery motions. Callaghan is seeking a jury trial and compensatory damages.