New Jersey Federal Court Blocks Job Applicant and Employee Lawsuits Regarding Recreational Marijuana Adverse Action, Urges Legislative Intervention

Duane Morris Takeaways: In Zanetich v. Walmart, Inc., Case No. 1:22-CV-05387 (D.N.J. May 25, 2023), a case of first impression, the Judge Christine O’Hearn of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey found the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (“CREAMMA”), the 2021 law legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state, does not allow job applicants and employees to file lawsuits alleging adverse actions based on marijuana use.  The ruling is a boon for employers across New Jersey, who will not face the possibility of private lawsuits filed by applicants and employees based on adverse employment actions by employers for their workers’ off-duty marijuana use.  However, the victory may be short-lived, as the Court invited re-examination of the law by way of legislative amendment, enforcement guidance, or New Jersey state court clarity on application of the state’s common law “failure to hire” theory to claims under the CREAMMA.

Case Background

On January 21, 2022, the plaintiff applied for a job with defendants in the Asset Protection Department in one of defendants’ New Jersey locations.  A few days after his January 25, 2022 interview, on January 28, 2022, defendants offered plaintiff the job, beginning on February 7, 2022, “subject to him submitting to and passing a drug test.” Id. at 2. Plaintiff alleged that at the time, the defendants had a Drug & Alcohol Policy that stated “any applicant or associate who tests positive for illegal drug use may be ineligible for employment,” which included marijuana. Id.

After plaintiff took a drug test on January 21, 2022 and tested positive for marijuana, he contacted defendants on February 10, 2022 for an update on his application.  Two days later, defendants informed Plaintiff that his job offer would be rescinded.  When plaintiff asked for the reason for this decision, he was advised it was because he had tested positive for marijuana.

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