New Mexico State Court Judge Grants Summary Judgment For Employer in Medical Marijuana Case

Second Judicial District Court Judge, Nan Nash, granted an employer’s motion for summary judgment which requested dismissal of a (former) employee’s claims of discrimination in relation to her termination for testing positive for cannabis.  Plaintiff Donna Smith claimed she was wrongfully fired from her position as a physician’s assistant after she tested positive for THC during an employer mandated urinalysis.

The employer, Presbyterian Healthcare Services (“PHS”), premised its motion for summary judgment on several arguments, but perhaps most importantly, highlighted the fact that as a recipient of federal funds it must comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.  The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 requires employers who receive federal funds to provide a drug-free workplace as a condition of receiving federal funds.  Under federal law, marijuana is a “Schedule I” drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and therefore, under federal law, it is illegal to manufacture, possess, distribute, or dispense marijuana.

In light of its contractual relationships with the federal government, PHS contended that permitting employees to use medical marijuana would constitute a violation of Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, which in turn, would jeopardize its federal funds and contracts.  According to PHS, it would be especially unreasonable to require PHS to accommodate Plaintiff’s use of medical marijuana under such circumstances.

In granting PHS’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Nash appeared to give particular weight to the federal requirements imposed upon PHS via its receipt of federal funds and the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.  Because neither the New Mexico Supreme Court nor the Court of Appeals has ruled on this issue, Judge Nash’s ruling may provide the first indication of how New Mexico courts will evaluate an employee’s request to use medical marijuana as an accommodation under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, especially if the employer receives federal funds.

Judge Nash entered her formal “Order Granting Summary Judgment” on August 26, 2015.

A related alert entitled “Medical Marijuana and Employment Discrimination in New Mexico,” provides additional analysis of the interplay between legalized medical marijuana and disability discrimination claims can be viewed here.

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