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Bias suit under Pennsylvania medical pot law can proceed

Medical marijuana

In the first state or federal judicial ruling of its kind in Pennsylvania, a state judge has ruled a worker terminated for her medical marijuana use can pursue litigation against her former employer under the state Medical Marijuana Act’s anti-discrimination provisions.

The Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County in Scranton, Pennsylvania, held in Pamela Palmiter v. Commonwealth Health Systems Inc. et al. that although the state’s Medical Marijuana Act, which became effective in 2016, does not explicitly permit a private right of action by an employee who is allegedly discriminated against because of medical marijuana use, it does so implicitly. The court’s ruling, which was issued Nov. 22, was publicized this week.

Pamela Palmiter, a medical assistant, was prescribed marijuana by her physician because of chronic pain, chronic migraines and persistent fatigue, according to the ruling.

After her original employer was taken over by Franklin, Tennessee-based Commonwealth Health, she was informed in February she would no longer be allowed to work based on her drug test. She filed suit against the hospital system on charges including violation of the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act.

Commonwealth argued the state Department of Health had exclusive authority to enforce the MMA’s provisions and that she could not pursue a private right of action under the act.

The court disagreed. The Medical Marijuana Act’s anti-discrimination provisions “would be rendered meaningless if an aggrieved employee could not pursue a private cause of action and seek to recover compensatory damages from an employer” that violates these provisions, said the ruling.

“Recognition of an implied right of action (under a section of the act) is consistent with the MMA’s stated purpose of providing safe and effective access to medical marijuana for eligible patients, while simultaneously protecting them from adverse employment treatment in furtherance” of the act’s legislative intent, said the ruling, which analyzed comparable rulings in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Arizona.

Ms. Palmiter’s attorney, Cynthia L. Pollick, principal with The Employment Law Firm in Pittston, Pennsylvania, said in a statement, “We are extremely pleased.” The ruling “protects all citizens who are certified medical marijuana users in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Commonwealth Health’s attorney had no comment.

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