A former Amazon warehouse worker who sued the company after allegedly being fired over his use of medical marijuana is better positioned to win the case following a procedural ruling by a federal judge on Thursday.
Last year, the ex-employee filed the suit, alleging that he was terminated after testing positive for THC and subsequently requesting a disability accommodation for his anxiety disorder to allow him to use cannabis in accordance with state law. And last week, he scored a small but significant procedural victory.
After he sued last year in New Jersey Superior Court, Amazon filed to have the case moved to the federal U.S. District Court, where the plaintiff stood little chance of winning given that U.S. law prohibits marijuana regardless of state policies. But in the latest development, the federal court granted the ex-worker’s request for a motion to remand, meaning the dispute will be kicked back to the state Superior Court for consideration.
The reason the judge granted the motion is because the plaintiff, who is known only by the initials D.J.C., filed to amend his suit by adding his former manager to it and removing references to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With those amendments, the suit side-stepped both factors that allowed Amazon to have the case transferred to federal court in the first place.
The most important factor is “diversity jurisdiction.” Because the original suit only named Amazon, which is not based in New Jersey, that meant it involved parties in two separate states, giving the federal court jurisdiction over the matter. By adding his New Jersey-based former manager, the court was “consequently deprived of diversity jurisdiction,” the decision by Judge William Martini said.
Matthew Collins, an attorney with Brach Eichler LLC who serves as chairman of the firm’s Labor and Employment Practice, told Marijuana Moment that the decision bodes well for the plaintiff.
The first simple fact is that the federal court would almost certainly not have ruled in the his favor under federal disability law, which doesn’t cover people using cannabis regardless of state policy, so the case being transferred back to the state Superior Court is already a positive development on its own for the former Amazon employee.
But more importantly, the stage was set for a positive ruling for the plaintiff in a separate New Jersey case last month. Not all legal marijuana states provide workplace disability protections for medical cannabis patients, and some courts have maintained that employers do not have an obligation to accommodate those patients—but the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in March that the Garden State does.
In its ruling, the court concluded that the state’s existing disability protections mean that employers can’t fire someone solely for testing positive for marijuana if they’re a patient under the state’s program. They can still be terminated for being intoxicated on the job, but the precedent makes the plaintiff’s case much stronger.
“Especially in light of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in March of this year, it now becomes the law of the land in New Jersey that employers have to reasonably accommodate medical marijuana usage,” Collins said. “The key thing for a plaintiff in this type of situation—including the plaintiff in the Amazon case—is that the court basically ruled that that obligation was always there to accommodate medical marijuana usage as soon as New Jersey passed its medical marijuana law.”
“The plaintiff’s case has only gotten legally stronger since March of this year,” he said. “It puts Amazon in this situation of being bound by legal precedent that wasn’t really clear in 2018, but they’re going to be bound by it in 2020 and going forward.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Amazon for comment but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.
Read the federal District Court’s ruling below: