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Pennsylvania Employers Beware: Violations of the Medical Marijuana Act May Result in Private Civil Lawsuits

Pennsylvania
September 16, 2021
September 16, 2021
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In an important decision for both medical marijuana users and employers, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled in a case of first impression that the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) allows employees, who believe they were discriminated against, terminated for medical marijuana use or both, to bring a private cause of action against their employers.

In Scranton Quincy Clinic Co. v. Palmiter, 2021 PA Super. 155, Pamela Palmiter, a medical assistant at the Scranton Quincy Clinic, applied for a certified medical assistant position in January 2019 and was scheduled for an employment-related drug test. Ms. Palmiter previously obtained a medical marijuana card in 2018 under the MMA due to chronic pain, chronic migraines and chronic fatigue. She advised the laboratory administering the test that she was prescribed medical marijuana. Ms. Palmiter tested positive for marijuana, and as a result, the hospital terminated her employment.

Following the termination, Ms. Palmiter asserted five causes of action against her employer: 1) a private cause of action based on the violation of the MMA; 2) a wrongful discharge claim in violation of public policy; 3) intrusion on seclusion; 4) breach of contract, and 5) invasion of privacy. The trial court overruled the hospital’s preliminary objections that Ms. Palmiter failed to state a claim of private cause of action under the MMA and the claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The hospital then appealed the trial court’s order regarding these two issues.

The Superior Court ultimately agreed with the trial court that the employment provision of the MMA would essentially be “rendered meaningless if an aggrieved employee could not pursue a private cause of action and seek to recover compensatory damages from an employer.” In other words, the court held that an employee has a private cause of action under the MMA. Additionally, the court found no prohibition against plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim in violation of public policy. The court noted that the “enactment of the MMA in 2016 reflects a public policy designed to protect certified users of medical marijuana from employment discrimination and termination.”

Based on the Scranton Qunicy Clinic Co. holding, employers must be aware that violations of the MMA may result in private civil lawsuits brought by employees, in addition to penalties administered by the Department of Health. Employers are also reminded of the importance to understand the MMA and comply with an employee's rights regarding the use of medical marijuana, be proactive in managing their policies consistent with the law and are encouraged to consult with an experienced attorney to discuss the potential options available at this time and in the future.