A graduate student has sued a textile company for refusing to hire her for a two-month internship because she uses medical marijuana to treat frequent and debilitating migraine headaches, a decision her lawyer calls discrimination.
Christine Callaghan, who is studying textiles at the University of Rhode Island, sued Westerly-based Darlington Fabrics Corp. and its parent, the Moore Company, on Wednesday. The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Callaghan, said it believes it's the first lawsuit of its kind in the state.
A lawyer for the company, Timothy Cavazza, said it had not yet been served with the lawsuit and it was company policy not to comment on litigation. He added that they were confident they acted in compliance with state and federal law and that the lawsuit would be dismissed.
Carly Iafrate, the attorney who filed the lawsuit for Callaghan, said if employers are allowed to discriminate against medical marijuana patients, then its legalization would become "an empty promise."
"People with disabilities simply cannot be denied equal employment opportunities on the basis of the type of medication required to treat their particular condition," she said.
Employment discrimination lawsuits have appeared in other states that have legalized medical marijuana. Patients who have been fired or disciplined after testing positive for the drug have previously sued in states including New Mexico, Maine, Colorado and New Jersey.
Rhode Island legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2006, although pot is still illegal under federal law. To use it, patients must get a doctor's OK and an identification card from the state. According to the lawsuit filed in superior court, Callaghan received her medical marijuana card in February 2013.
The lawsuit says Callaghan was looking for an internship for credit toward her masters' degree over the summer, and a professor connected her with Darlington Fabrics. After working out the details of the paid, for-credit internship, she was asked to meet with the company's human resources department. The lawsuit says the meeting was a formality and prior to it, "all indications were that Callaghan would have the position."
During that meeting, she disclosed that she had a medical condition and held a medical marijuana card, according to the lawsuit. She said she would not bring the drug to the company or use it before work. A few days later, the lawsuit says, she was called by two company employees who told her "they could not employ Callaghan because of her status as a medical marijuana patient."
Callaghan says as a result, she was unable to find a new summer internship, jeopardizing her ability to graduate on time, and was forced to disclose her medical condition to her professors.
The lawsuit says Darlington's actions violated state law that protects qualified medical marijuana users from employment discrimination. It asks for unspecified damages and legal fees.