CCRC faces lawsuit after allegedly rescinding job offer over medical marijuana use

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A continuing care retirement community is facing a civil rights discrimination lawsuit from a woman who claims that the community withdrew a job offer over her legal use of medical marijuana.

In a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania District Court, Michelle Ustaszeski-Hutchinson accused Allentown, PA-based Phoebe-Devitt Homes, doing business as Phoebe Ministries, of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and state discrimination laws.

Ustaszeski-Hutchinson alleges that she received an employment offer to be a resident care assistant at Phoebe Richland in Richlandtown, PA, in January but that a month later, she was told in an email that the offer was rescinded based on information collected during a pre-employment screening. 

Phoebe Ministries President and CEO Scott R. Stevenson told McKnight’s Senior Living that he is aware of the filing but that as a matter of policy cannot discuss an ongoing legal matter.

“At Phoebe Richland, we strive to maintain an accommodating and welcoming work environment that exceeds regulatory guidelines, including those related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we take great care to ensure our hiring practices are fair and thorough,” he said.

The complaint states that Ustaszeski-Hutchinson was legally using medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder. She said that she showed her medical marijuana card during her medical examination and drug screening, which were part of the hiring process. She also said she sent a copy of the card to the company’s medical review officer.

Two weeks later, Ustaszeski-Hutchinson said, she received an email informing her that a conditional offer of employment had been rescinded based on the information collected during the pre-employment screening process.

The complaint maintains that Phoebe Ministries acted in a “bigoted, willful and malicious manner” in withdrawing its employment offer based on her perceived disability as an illegal drug user. As a consequence, the complaint states, Ustaszeski-Hutchinson was subjected to “humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish.”

Ustaszeski-Hutchinson is seeking lost pay, benefits, lost future pay, compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs. 

Pre-employment testing challenges

Attorneys at a recent LeadingAge Leadership Summit discussed the challenges of pre-employment testing and potential hires’ use of medical marijuana. 

They said that the long-term care industry expects to see more states legalizing — and more potential employees using — medical marijuana and cannabinoid, or CBD, products. Providers, however, were advised to proceed with caution because marijuana use remains illegal at the national level and some providers, particularly in the skilled nursing sector, rely heavily on federal funding.

The bottom line, according to the attorneys speaking at the summit, is that providers also must consider state law regarding marijuana legality, state limitations on aging service providers and insurance provider requirements.

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