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Mickey Busca, Editor

Medical Marijuana and UC Benefits Case

December, 2022

MEDICAL MARIJUANA CARD ALLOWS DISCHARGED

FIREFIGHTER ELIGIBLE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

 

A Waterbury firefighter who was discharged because he tested positive for marijuana use in violation of a last chance agreement with his union was still eligible to collect unemployment benefits since the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed that he was not discharged for willful misconduct.  City of Waterbury v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 2022 Conn.App. LEXIS 349 (November 29, 2022).

Thomas F. Eccleston II, (unemployment “claimant”) was employed with the City of Waterbury as a firefighter beginning in 1995.  In November, 2015, he entered into a last chance agreement with the City and his union which provided that he was subject to immediate termination if he tested positive for alcohol or a controlled substance.  Subsequent to that agreement, without his employer’s knowledge, he was prescribed and began lawfully using medical marijuana in compliance with the law, the Palliative Use of Marijuana Act, (“PUMA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 21a-408 et seq.  PUMA prevents an employer from discharging an individual solely on the basis of the employee’s status as a qualifying medical marijuana patient. Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 21a-408p (b)(3).

Following a random drug test on March 20, 2018, claimant was terminated for testing positive for marijuana, a controlled substance, in violation of the last chance agreement and other employer policies.

On April 28, 2018, claimant applied for unemployment benefits.  The City challenged his claim for benefits, arguing that he was ineligible because he was discharged for “willful misconduct” because he violated the last chance agreement because he tested positive for marijuana.

At the first step of the unemployment process, the Administrator level, he was denied unemployment benefits.  However, at the second level, the Appeals Referee, reversed that decision, allowing him to collect unemployment benefits.

The City appealed that decision to the third and last level, the Board of Review.  The Board affirmed the decision of the Appeals Referee. 

On March 18, 2019, the City appealed the Board’s decision to the Connecticut Superior Court.  The court rendered judgment in favor of the claimant, stating that an employer cannot discharge a person solely on the basis of his status as a qualifying patient under PUMA.  The City then appealed that decision to the Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court ruled that while the last chance agreement operated to allow the City to terminate the claimant’s employment for his palliative use of marijuana, it was unreasonable application of the last chance agreement to his medical marijuana use to determine that he was discharged for “willful misconduct.”  The Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Review allowing the claimant to collect unemployment benefits.

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