An ongoing employment battle in Connecticut regarding marijuana in the workplace has come to an end on Friday. New Hartford resident Gregory Linhoff worked as a maintenance worker for the University of Connecticut from 1998 until 2012 with a perfect conduct record, no disciplinary issues and favorable job evaluations until he was caught smoking marijuana in a state owned van. Upon being discovered, Linhoff was immediately fired. He claimed that marijuana was aiding him with depression and anxiety brought on by a divorce he was undergoing with his wife, as well as a cancer scare from which he had recently suffered.
Enter the Arbitrator
Even with his perfect record and medicinal reasoning, he was not given any kind of chance to redeem himself and keep his job. He was initially arrested although the charges were eventually dismissed. State officials believed it was imperative to fire him and that anything less would send the wrong message to other employees. An arbitrator disagreed with the state ruling. The arbitrator believed that Linhoff should not have been fired but instead given a harsh penalty; suspension without pay for 6 months and random drug tests for his first year back to work.
The Union Joins the Fray
The state decided to appeal the arbitrator’s decision and went to a Superior Court judge. The judge overturned the arbitrator’s ruling, stating that it violates Connecticut public policy regarding cannabis use. Linhoff belonged to the union known as the Connecticut Employees Union Independent (SEIU). The union believed the judge’s ruling was incorrect and appealed the decision in the Supreme Court, where 7 justices looked at the case and decided that the lower court judge was wrong when overturning the arbitrator’s decision. While public policy on marijuana in the workplace allows employers to fire employees, it does not in any way require it. All 7 justices believed that Linhoff deserved the second chance proposed by the arbitrator.
Marijuana in the Workplace Does Not Mean Mandatory Termination
There was some concern regarding the overturning of the arbitrator’s decision, as this would make all labor arbitration rulings at risk of being overturned. The justices said that overturning such a ruling is very rare and only acceptable in extraordinary cases. While they do not condone Linhoff’s behavior, they do believe his record merits him a second chance. Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote, “By the arbitrator’s estimation, the grievant’s personal qualities and overall record indicate that he is a good candidate for a second chance. Moreover, the discipline the arbitrator imposed was appropriately severe, and sends a message to others who might consider committing similar misconduct that painful consequences will result.”
Linhoff’s lawyer Barbara Collins was happy with the Supreme Court ruling, saying that it is extremely important that when it comes to marijuana in the workplace, the court supports “a public policy of rehabilitation and second chances.” For many around the country, depression and anxiety would have qualified the person to be able to use medicinal marijuana without issue. As the spread of medical marijuana continues to go through all the states in the U.S., we can only hope that within 10 years, these kinds of cases will be a thing of the past.