Amazon employee fired for medical cannabis consumption gets support from federal judge

Amazon employee fired for medical cannabis consumption gets support from federal judge

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A man who formerly worked at an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey could be on-track to winning a lawsuit filed against the multinational conglomerate technology company. The plaintiff, who has not been named for legal reasons, was a registered medical cannabis consumer in the state. Upon discovering that he had traces of the plant in his system, Amazon fired him; despite the fact he had been prescribed the plant as a therapeutic remedy.

On Thursday, April 9, a procedural ruling by a federal judge gave the plaintiff a better chance of winning his case. The procedural ruling was unexpected, considering the fact that Amazon shifted the case from the New Jersey Superior Court to the federal U.S. District Court. 

Since cannabis is a federally illegal substance, the plaintiff – who is only acknowledged by his initials “D.J.C.” to protect his identity – believed that his lawsuit stood a small chance of being considered. However, he was pleasantly surprised when the federal court approved his request for a motion to remand. Now, the case will revert to the state Superior Court for further deliberation.

Amazon fires medical cannabis patient: Plaintiff filed lawsuit after returning positive test for THC

The former Amazon employee filed the lawsuit in 2019, shortly after he was dismissed from his role at the company for returning a positive cannabis drug test. Based on test results, the plaintiff had traces of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in his system. This cannabinoid is renowned for producing feelings of psychoactivity and, sometimes, drowsiness in consumers. 

Because of THC’s mind-altering effects, Amazon officials felt that the plaintiff was not capable of carrying out his job safely and productively. After his dismissal from the workplace, D.J.C. requested that his employees grant him disability accommodation; so that he can use medical cannabis for anxiety without violating state law. This request was rejected and D.J.C. was compelled to fight back.

“Diversity jurisdiction” was an important factor in the lawsuit, with Judge William Martini claiming that the court was “deprived” of it once the plaintiff’s former New Jersey-based employer was added to the suit. Originally, the suit only included Amazon and since the company is based outside of New Jersey, the details of the lawsuit involved parties in different states; thus initially granting the federal court jurisdiction over the circumstances.

The judge was able to grant D.J.C. the motion once the lawsuit had been amended. Aside from the inclusion of his former manager, the fired Amazon employee also eliminates any references towards the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Once the amendments had been made, Amazon no longer had influence over the case being reviewed in federal court.

Amazon fires medical cannabis patient: Attorney thinks plaintiff will be victorious

An attorney with the Brach Eichler LLC law group named Matthew Collins feels confident that the plaintiff will be successful in his efforts to sue Amazon for punishing his cannabis use. Collins, who also acts as chairman of the law firm’s Labor and Employment Practice, argued that employers must act in accordance with updated laws surrounding medical cannabis usage in New Jersey.

“Especially in light of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in March of this year, it now becomes the law of the land in New Jersey that employers have to reasonably accommodate medical [cannabis] usage,” he said, adding that, “the key thing for a plaintiff in this type of situation, including the plaintiff in the Amazon case, is that the court basically ruled that that obligation was always there to accommodate medical [cannabis] usage as soon as New Jersey passed its medical [cannabis] law.” 

Collins told MJBiz Daily that D.J.C.’s case had become legally stronger since March; stating that Amazon is “bound by legal precedent that wasn’t really clear in 2018, but they’re going to be bound by it in 2020 and going forward.”

The court finished things up by clarifying that New Jersey’s disability protections prohibit employers from firing employees who are registered with the state’s medical cannabis program simply because they return a positive test for cannabis. Although employees can still be dismissed if they are intoxicated while in the workplace, the new precedent strengthens the plaintiff’s case.

Amazon did not comment on the situation when contacted by reporters.