Federal Laws Do Not Preempt Connecticut Law Providing Employment Protections to Medical Marijuana Users

Connecticut employees using medical marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions as allowed under Connecticut law for “qualified users” are protected under state law from being fired or refused employment based solely on their marijuana use. Employers who violate those protections risk being sued for discrimination, according to a recent federal district court decision.


In Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operation Company (3:16-cv-01938; D. Conn. Aug. 8, 2017), the federal district court ruled that “qualified users” are protected from criminal prosecution and are not subject to penalty, sanction or being denied any right or privilege under federal laws, such as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), because the federal laws do not preempt Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA).

PUMA prohibits employers from refusing to hire, fire, penalize, or threaten applicants or employees solely on the basis of being “qualified users” of medical marijuana. PUMA exempts patients, their caregivers and prescribing doctors from state penalties against those who use or distribute marijuana, and it explicitly prohibits discrimination by employers, schools and landlords.

In Noffsinger, Plaintiff was employed as a recreational therapist at Touchpoints, a long term care and rehabilitation provider, and she was recruited for a position as a director of recreational therapy at Bride Brook, a nursing facility. After a phone interview, she was offered the position at Bride Brook and accepted the offer, and she was told to give notice to Touchpoints, which she did to begin working at Bride Brook within a week. Plaintiff scheduled a meeting to complete paperwork and routine pre-employment drug screening for Bride Brook, and at the meeting, she disclosed her being qualified to use marijuana for PTSD under PUMA. The job offer was later rescinded because she tested positive for cannabis; in the meantime, Plaintiff’s position at Touchpoints was filled, so she could not remain employed there.


Plaintiff sued for violation of PUMA’s anti-discrimination provisions, common law wrongful rescission of a job offer in violation of public policy and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Defendant filed a Rule 12(b)(6) pre-answer motion to dismiss based on preemption under CSA, ADA, and FDCA. The federal court denied the motion and ruled that PUMA did not conflict with the CSA, ADA or FDCA, because those federal laws are not intended to preempt or supersede state employment discrimination laws. The court concluded that CSA does not make it illegal to employ a marijuana user, and it does not regulate employment practices; the ADA does not regulate non-workplace activity or illegal use of drugs outside the workplace or drug use that does not affect job performance; and the FDCA does not regulate employment and does not apply to PUMA’s prohibitions.

The court’s decision is notable in that it is the first federal decision to determine that the CSA does not preempt a state medical marijuana law’s anti-discrimination provision, and reaches a different result than the District of New Mexico, which concluded that requiring accommodation of medical marijuana use conflicts with the CSA because it would mandate the very conduct the CSA proscribes. The Noffsinger decision supplements a growing number of state court decisions that have upheld employment protections for medical marijuana users contained in other state statutes. These decisions stand in stark contrast to prior state court decisions California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and Washington that held that decriminalization laws – i.e., statutes that do not contain express employment protections – do not confer a legal right to smoke marijuana and do not protect medical marijuana users from adverse employment actions based on positive drug tests.

Key Takeaways

Employers may continue to prohibit use of marijuana at the workplace; and qualified users who come to work under the influence, impaired and unable to perform essential job functions are subject to adverse employment decisions. Employers in Connecticut, however, may risk being sued for discrimination for enforcing a drug testing policy against lawful medical marijuana users.  In those cases, employers may have to accommodate off-duty marijuana use, and may take disciplinary action only if the employee is impaired by marijuana at work or while on duty.

It remains unclear how employers can determine whether an employee is under the influence of marijuana at work. Unlike with alcohol, current drug tests do not indicate whether and to what extent an employee is impaired by marijuana. Reliance on observations from employees may be problematic, as witnesses may have differing views as to the level of impairment, and, in any event, observation alone does not indicate the source of impairment. Employers following this “impairment standard” are advised to obtain as many data points as possible before making an adverse employment decision.

All employers – and particularly federal contractors required to comply with the Drug-Free Workplace Act and those who employ a zero-tolerance policy – should review their drug-testing policy to ensure that it: (a) sets clear expectations of employees; (b) provides justifications for the need for drug-testing; and (c) expressly allows for adverse action (including termination or refusal to hire) as a consequence of a positive drug test.

Additionally, employers enforcing zero-tolerance policies should be prepared for future challenges in those states prohibiting discrimination against and/or requiring accommodation of medical marijuana users. Eight other states besides Connecticut have passed similar medical marijuana laws that have express anti-discrimination protections for adverse employment actions: Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New York, Minnesota and Rhode Island. Those states may require the adjustment or relaxation of a hiring policy to accommodate a medical marijuana user. Additionally, courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have permitted employment discrimination lawsuits filed by medical marijuana users to proceed.

Finally, employers should be mindful of their drug policies’ applicability not only to current employees, but also to applicants.

This post was written by David S. Poppick & Nathaniel M. Glasser of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C.  ©2017. All rights reserved.
For more Health Care Law legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Collections in Connecticut Part 1: Pre and Post-Judgement Collection Specifics

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Collections in Connecticut – how to get paid if you are owed money? Collecting money owed to you or your company can be frustrating.  You or your company are owed money and have not been paid.  What are your legal options?  The following video is the first in a series of three discussing collection law in Connecticut, pre and post-judgment collection specifics and enforcing foreign judgments.


Click here for Part 2 – Prejudgment Remedy – Collections in Connecticut

Click here for Part 3 – Steps in the Connecticut Collection Process

© Copyright 2016 Murtha Cullina

Distressed Assets in Connecticut: What to Know Before Jumping In

There are many benefits for out of state lenders or investors looking to engage in business in Connecticut, one of the wealthiest (per capita) states in the United States of America. For example, Connecticut has relatively stable property values. However, Connecticut also has a number of legal pitfalls for lenders or investors who acquire Connecticut mortgages as part of a loan sale transaction. These pitfalls may end up causing undue delays and unnecessary expense when it comes to the legal process. A lender or entity unfamiliar with Connecticut specific laws and procedures should, prior to committing to acquire an asset secured by property in Connecticut, undertake due diligence and seek advice on what programs and statutes are or are not applicable prior to consummating the deal. Below are a few of the procedural thickets that must be navigated prior to being able to seek to foreclose a mortgage deed, the most common form of collateral for a real estate transaction, in Connecticut.

Preliminarily (and interestingly), Connecticut is unique in the United States in that it, as of January 1, 2015, recognizes three separate and distinct methods of foreclosure of a mortgage deed: Strict Foreclosure (appropriation of the mortgaged property after passage of law days set by judicial order); Foreclosure by Sale (created by statute and permits judicially ordered and overseen auction process); and Foreclosure by Market Sale (created by statute and permits agreement for marketing and private sale of property by mortgagor with consent of the mortgagee). Every foreclosure commenced in Connecticut is a judicial proceeding regardless of which of the above three forms the judgment of foreclosure will eventually take. The fact that every foreclosure is a judicial action alone can create havoc to the plans of a party who is otherwise unfamiliar with the foreclosure process in Connecticut and is best understood up front before committing any sum to a transaction where the main source of potential recovery is a parcel of property in Connecticut.

Secondly, Connecticut has many legislatively imposed requirements which must be met prior to even commencing an action for foreclosure of a mortgage deed. The vast majority of these programs were implemented either during or immediately after the nancial crisis of 2007 through (roughly) 2014 and, accordingly, revolve around 1 to 4 family owner-occupied residential property but are nonetheless worded vaguely enough so that they arguably apply to non-owner occupied or commercial properties as well. Amongst these programs are the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (“EMAP”), codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. 8-265dd, et seq., and the Foreclosure by Market Sale procedure, codi ed at Conn. Gen. Stat. 49-24b, et seq.

Article By Alena C. Gfeller & Andrew P. Barsom of Murtha Cullina

© Copyright 2016 Murtha Cullina

Paid Sick Leave: Connecticut Tweaks and Newark Speaks

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The Connecticut Paid Sick Leave Law has been tweaked in three respects: (1) to allow employers to determine the 50-employee applicability threshold in the same manner as under the state’s Family and Medical Leave Act, i.e., by determining whether the employer has at least 50 employees on its payroll for the week containing October 1; (2) to allow accrual of paid sick leave hours on any annual basis, not just a calendar year, and (3) to add one additional job title—radiologic technologists—to the list of “service worker” titles that are eligible for paid sick leave. The law adopting the tweaks— An Act Creating Parity between Paid Sick Leave Benefits and Other Employer-Provided Benefits (Public Act 14-128)—is effective January 1, 2015.

Newark, N,J. whose  Paid Sick Leave Ordinance became effective on June 21, 2014, has issued FAQs about the ordinance. There are 24 FAQs–a dozen directed to employers and a dozen directed to employees. The FAQs address a myriad of questions on topics such as employee eligibility, accrual of paid sick leave, employer notice obligations, appropriate uses of paid sick leave and the law’s integration with collective bargaining agreements.

Also on the paid sick leave issue, the Massachusetts Secretary of State announced last week that voters in November will be asked whether to approve a mandatory earned sick time law. If the issue passes, Massachusetts would become the second state and ninth jurisdiction to adopt a paid sick time law.

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Labor and Employment Law: Tri-State Round-Up



New York

“Pregnant Workers Fairness Act” Becomes Law in New York City

On October 2, 2013, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act” (PWFA) in an attempt to plug a perceived gap in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which does not require accommodation for pregnant employees. Once the new law takes effect in early February 2014, it will require employers in New York City to offer reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

The PWFA will apply to all businesses in New York City with four or more employees, including independent contractors. It requires that written notice of its provisions be presented to all new employees at the time of hire, and that a poster advising employees of their rights under the PWFA—to be produced by the City’s Commission on Human Rights—be posted within the employer’s facility. Employers that are able to demonstrate that compliance would pose an undue hardship are excluded from compliance. Employees who believe they have been the victims of discrimination in violation of the PWFA have the option of either filing a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights or bringing a court action against their employer.

NYS Department of Labor Proposes New Wage Deduction Regulations

Employers in New York have been waiting since June 2012 for guidance regarding amendments made that month to Section 193 of the New York Labor Law restoring employers’ ability to make deductions from employee wages for overpayments and advances, but only in specific, as-yet-undefined circumstances. The wait, however, appears to be nearing an end.

In May 2013, the NYSDOL issued proposed wage deduction regulations that address not only deductions for overpayments and advances, but also deductions deemed permissible because they are “for the benefit of the employee.” The complete proposed regulations are available on the NYSDOL website (www.labor.ny.gov./legal/wage-deduction-regulation.shtm), but the following is a brief summary:

  • Deductions for Overpayments

    Written authorization from the employee is not required for the employer to make deductions for unintended overpayments. The proposed regulations specify in detail, however, the timing, frequency, amount permitted and advance notice required for such deductions, along with dispute resolution procedures and the method by which improper deductions are to be repaid.

  • Deductions in Repayment of an Advance

    The new regulations state that any provision of money to an employee by an employer that is accompanied by the accrual of interest, fees or a repayment amount of anything other than the specific amount provided to the employee is not an advance, and it may not be recouped via wage deduction. Furthermore, the parties must agree in writing to the terms of repayment before the advance is given; and once agreement is reached, no further permission or notice is required until the entire amount of the advance has been recouped.

  • Deductions for the Benefit of the Employee

    Such deductions are expressly limited to those listed in Section 193 of New York’s Labor Law, along with benefits for health and welfare, pension and savings, charity, representation, transportation, food and lodging.

Employers are encouraged to proceed with caution if they wish to implement a program for recoupment of overpayments and wage advances, as the wage deduction regulations proposed by the NYSDOL are not yet final and are thus subject to change.

New Jersey

New State Law Limits Employer Access to Employees’ Social Media Accounts

A new law set to take effect on December 1, 2013 will make New Jersey the latest of a growing number of states—including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington—that prohibit employers from requesting access to the social media accounts of current or prospective employees. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against any such individual who either refuses to provide such access or who complains about what he or she believes to be a violation of the law.

The law applies only to those social media accounts that are the exclusive personal property of the employee or prospective employee. Employers are, however, permitted to obtain access to private accounts for the purposes of ensuring legal or regulatory compliance, investigating employment-related misconduct or investigating a potential disclosure of the employer’s proprietary or confidential information. The law does not prohibit employers from accessing accounts its employees use for business-related purposes, and employer review of material that employees or prospective employees post publicly on an otherwise private social media account remains lawful.

Enforcement of New Jersey’s social media law is left solely to the state’s Department of Labor; the law does not provide individuals with a private right of action. Companies may be fined up to $1,000 for their first violation and $2,500 for violations thereafter.

Amendment to NJLAD Prohibits Retaliation Against Employees Who Seek Information About Their Coworkers

An amendment to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), signed into law on August 28, 2013 and given immediate effect, adds a nonretaliation pay equity measure to NJLAD. Intended to protect employees who request information about other employees’ or former employees’ compensation or potential membership in a protected class, the amendment prohibits employer retaliation for such a request, provided the request is made either as part of an investigation into potential discriminatory treatment or to take legal action for such discriminatory treatment with regard to compensation.

It is important to note that the amendment does not require employers to take action in response to such a request from an employee or to provide him or her with the information sought while employers are free to deny such requests; they are, however, prohibited from retaliating against the employee making the request.

Employers in New Jersey should consider examining and, if necessary, revising their policies pertaining to requests for and disclosure of protected information, and they should take steps to make sure that supervisory and managerial employees are aware of NJLAD’s new provisions.

“NJ Safe Act” Requires Unpaid Leave for Employees Affected by Domestic or Sexual Violence

A new law that took effect on October 1, 2013 enables eligible employees within New Jersey to take 20 days of unpaid leave within a 12-month period in the event that the employee, his or her child, parent, spouse or domestic or civil union partner is the victim of domestic or sexual violence.

Dubbed the New Jersey Security and Financial Empowerment Act, but better known as the “NJ Safe Act,” the law applies to employers within the state with 25 or more employees. Its intended purpose is to allow victims of assault, or those who are giving care to such victims of assault, to engage in a series of activities related to such victims’ recovery without fear of losing their jobs.

The NJ Safe Act covers those employees who have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months and who have worked at least 1,000 hours during the previous 12 months. Leave may be taken within one year of an occurrence of domestic violence or sexual assault, and it may be taken intermittently. If the need for leave is foreseeable, employees seeking such leave are required to provide written notice to their employer as far in advance as possible. Employers are permitted to request documentation from the employee supporting the employee’s need for leave. The act also requires employers to post a notice made available by the New Jersey Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to inform employees of their rights.

Employees are provided with a private right of action under the NJ Safe Act and are able to seek relief in the New Jersey Superior Court up to one year after an alleged violation. Prevailing plaintiffs may be entitled to recovery of economic and noneconomic damages, as well as attorneys’ fees, a civil fine and an order of reinstatement. The law, like most of New Jersey’s employment laws, contains a provision that prohibits retaliation against an employee who exercises his or her rights under it.

New Jersey employers with more than 25 employees should take steps to ensure that their leave policies comply with the new law. Such employers should also make sure that any employee training on the subject of retaliation includes information on the NJ Safe Act and that they have posted the required materials within their workplaces.


Significant Changes Made to Connecticut’s Personnel Files Act

As a result of an amendment to Connecticut’s Personnel Files Act that took effect on October 1, 2013, employers within the state now have a dramatically shorter period of time within which to respond to requests from current or former employees to inspect the contents of their personnel files. Whereas the law previously required employers to permit such inspection “within a reasonable period of time,” the law now mandates that current employees be allowed to inspect their files within seven days of a written request; former employees must receive the same opportunity within ten days. Such inspections are to take place during regular business hours and at a location at, or reasonably near, the employee’s place of employment.

The amendment also places a number of other new requirements on Connecticut employers. Among them are the following:

  • Employees must now be provided with a copy of any documented disciplinary action not more than one business day after the action is imposed;
  • Employees must “immediately” be given copies of any documented notice of the termination of their employment;
  • Employers must now include a “clear and conspicuous” statement in any written termination or disciplinary notice that, should an employee disagree with any information contained in such a document, the employee may submit a written explanation of his or her position. If an employee chooses to submit such a statement, employers are required to include it within the employee’s personnel file; employers must also include the employee’s statement with any transmission of or disclosure from the file to any third party.

As before, Connecticut’s Personnel Files Act does not contain a private right of action. The state’s Department of Labor may impose a fine of up to $500 for a first violation and up to $1,000 for subsequent violations involving the same employee.


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Vedder Price