Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Superior Court of Pennsylvania recognizes cause of action for wrongful termination under medical marijuana statute

In Palmiter v. Scranton Quincy Clinic Co., LLC, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania faced an issue of first impression for Pennsylvania appellate courts: Can an employee who is fired in violation of the Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) bring a private lawsuit in court?

Pamela Palmiter applied for a job at a hospital, which required a drug test. She had a medical marijuana card and informed the laboratory that she had one. She later received a call from someone at the hospital informing her that she could not be employed by the hospital because she failed the drug test. 

The MMA generally prohibits discrimination or retaliation against employees for having medical marijuana cards (which likely includes the actual use of marijuana with a card). The statute, however, does not specifically create a cause of action for employees whose employers break this rule. 

In Pennsylvania, courts recognize a "wrongful termination" (or "wrongful discharge") tort in very narrow circumstances. Specifically, employees generally must point to some "public policy" (embodied in a statute or constitution) that was violated. In Palmiter, the Superior Court held that the MMA created just such a public policy. 

End result? "[W]e see no impediment to Ms. Palmiter maintaining a private action under the MMA or a wrongful discharge action on the facts pled and the applicable law."

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