Healthcare Worker Sues Hospital for Not Hiring Him Because of Medical Marijuana Use

An Arkansas healthcare worker has sued a hospital for withdrawing its employment offer after learning that the prospective employee uses medical marijuana, which is legal in Arkansas. 

In Balance Reed v. Northwest Arkansas Hospitals LLC, plaintiff Reed is seeking class action status against Northwest Arkansas Hospitals, LLC (NWAH), which operates several hospitals in the state, including Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville, where Reed applied for and was offered a job. The offer was revoked after Reed tested positive for marijuana.

In his complaint, Reed alleged that NWAH was in violation of Arkansas’ medical marijuana law by revoking his employment offer because of off-duty marijuana use.  In Arkansas, employers with nine or more employees may not discriminate against applicants or employees based on medical marijuana use. Employers may, however, exclude employees from safety-sensitive positions based on a positive drug test.

Reed contends that the position he applied for – Mental Health Tech I – was not listed as “safety-sensitive” on the job application or in the employment offer letter he received. Reed accepted the position in writing and informed NWAH that he was a medical marijuana patient and would not pass a drug screening. After undergoing a drug screening and failing to pass, Reed was informed by NWAH that he was ineligible for employment.

In a motion for summary judgment, NWAH asked a state court judge to dismiss the suit with prejudice, saying that the position that Reed applied for was designated in writing as “safety-sensitive” and therefore the hospital was permitted to deny Reed employment. The hospital argued that the position description noted that the role might expose an individual to “safety sensitive situations,” which may require the ability to handle emergencies, manage crises and be responsible for ensuring patient care.

NWAH also argued that the statute does not require an employer to state in the application or offer letter that a position is “safety-sensitive”, before or after a conditional job offer is made.

“Notwithstanding that fact, plaintiff cannot dispute that he received a copy of the written position description, which he acknowledged and signed on or about May 18, 2020,” NWAH said. “Plaintiff therefore had actual notice that the mental health tech I position was clearly designated in writing by NWAH as safety sensitive. More importantly, as evidenced by the position description, the position was characterized in writing as safety sensitive. That is all the statute requires.”

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