The ACLU of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a URI graduate student who was denied summer employment this year at a fabrics company because of her status as a registered medical marijuana user.
The suit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorney Carly Beauvais Iafrate, is on behalf of Christine Callaghan, a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design who is studying textiles and working towards a masters’ degree in that field at URI. She has participated in the medical marijuana program for almost two years to deal with frequent, debilitating migraine headaches.
Callaghan was prepared to start a paid internship in July, which would also be for class credit, at Darlington Fabrics in Westerly. During an interview with a person in the company’s human resources department, Callaghan disclosed her medical condition and status as a cardholder under the state’s medical marijuana program. She explained that she would not bring medical marijuana onto the premises or come to work after having taken marijuana.
Nonetheless, the company withdrew the paid internship after finding out about her medical status. As a result of not being hired, the lawsuit argues, Callaghan “was unable to find replacement summer employment, lost the benefit of a major networking opportunity with one of the only companies left in Rhode Island in her field, lost important and unique experience that Defendants were offering, was forced to disclose her medical marijuana status to her professors, and her ability to graduate on time was placed into jeopardy as a result of having to try to find another internship at the last minute.”
The lawsuit argues that “a potential employer’s failure to hire a medical marijuana patient because of, or related to, his or her status as a medical marijuana user and/or cardholder” constitutes disability discrimination in violation of the RI Civil Rights Act, and also violates the medical marijuana law, which protects cardholders from discrimination in employment. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and other appropriate relief “to make the Plaintiff whole.”
Plaintiff Callaghan said: “I just want Darlington and other companies in Rhode Island to treat me and other licensed patients the same way they would treat any other employee with a chronic health condition who is taking medication, as the law requires.”
ACLU attorney Iafrate added: “All companies doing business in Rhode Island need to realize that people with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities on the basis of the type of medication required to treat their particular condition. If employers are permitted to discriminate against those utilizing medical marijuana, then the good work done by those to enact the law will be completely undone. We cannot let this law become an empty promise.”
The ACLU has been a strong supporter of the medical marijuana law.