AG Platkin, Division on Civil Rights Take Enforcement Action Against Telecommunications Company for Alleged Disability Discrimination

Prince Telecom Allegedly Refused to Hire an Employment Candidate Who Legally Used Medical Marijuana

For Immediate Release: July 2, 2024

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
Division on Civil Rights
– Sundeep Iyer, Director

For Further Information:

Media Inquiries-
Tara Oliver
OAGpress@njoag.gov

TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today that DCR has issued a Finding of Probable Cause in a case alleging that Prince Telecom LLC discriminated against an applicant for employment based on disability in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

In the Finding of Probable Cause announced today, DCR found that Prince Telecom, a company that constructs and maintains telecommunications and cable systems, initially offered an applicant a job pending a drug test. The applicant presented a medical marijuana prescription and noted that he used medical marijuana to treat a disability. But when the applicant tested positive for cannabis, Prince Telecom rescinded its offer of employment.

DCR found sufficient evidence to conclude that Prince Telecom violated the LAD by failing to consider accommodations for the applicant’s disability. Under the LAD, an employer may not refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise discriminate against an employee or applicant based on disability. Once an employer becomes aware that an employee or applicant has a disability, the employer must engage in an “interactive process” with the employee to determine whether it can offer an accommodation. The employer must then make a reasonable accommodation unless it can show that an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on its business. DCR found that Prince Telecom failed to engage in the interactive process, and found that a reasonable accommodation would not have imposed an undue hardship on Prince Telecom.

“New Jersey’s civil rights laws require that employers discuss how to develop accommodations that will allow employees with disabilities to perform their duties,” said Attorney General Platkin. “But this employer cut off all communication, refusing to even try to work with their candidate. Their failure to act violates the law, and we will not tolerate that.”

“Our laws provide strong protections against discrimination based on disability.  Those protections mean that employers can’t discriminate against employees based on their treatment for a disability, including their use of marijuana to treat or alleviate the symptoms of a disability,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “We remain committed to enforcing the protections our civil rights laws afford against disability discrimination in employment, and to ensuring that all employers are aware of their obligations under the law.”

The protections provided by the LAD for individuals who use marijuana to treat or alleviate the symptoms of a disability co-exist with the employment protections provided by other laws signed by Governor Phil Murphy in recent years.

Under the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, employers cannot take adverse employment action against an employee based on the fact that the employee is registered as a medical marijuana user with the Cannabis Regulatory Commission.  And under the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (CREAMMA), an employee or applicant cannot be subject to adverse action by an employer solely due to a positive drug test for cannabis.  (Because CREAMMA went into effect after the facts giving rise to this complaint, CREAMMA did not apply in this particular case.)

These other laws do not displace, and are consistent with, the protections the LAD offers to individuals with disabilities.  The LAD’s protections mean that New Jersey employers must make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities who use medical marijuana to treat their disability unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’ business.

According to the complaint filed with DCR, Prince Telecom allegedly offered the candidate a position as a cable installation technician pending the successful completion of a drug test. The applicant presented his medical marijuana prescription card at the screening center, where he tested positive for cannabis. Prince Telecom rescinded its offer of employment five days later, citing the positive drug screen. The applicant responded by advising a human resources representative that he had a medical marijuana prescription for treating his disability. He also stated that “I believe there are protections afforded me under the law.” The representative did not respond to him.

According to the complaint, the applicant made several attempts to work with the company to seek an accommodation that would allow him to perform the cable installation tech position.  The company’s human resources director promised to reach out to him again but did not.  Failure to engage in the interactive process to consider accommodations for the candidate’s disability is a violation of the law.

During DCR’s investigation, Prince Telecom asserted that an accommodation to its drug screening requirements would impose an undue hardship on its operations. However, the company could not provide any proof that it had worked with the applicant to determine what his cannabis-use needs were, and could not otherwise demonstrate that providing an accommodation would impose an undue hardship.

The issuance of a Finding of Probable Cause shows that DCR has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined sufficient evidence exists to support a reasonable suspicion the LAD has been violated. A Finding of Probable Cause is not a final adjudication on the merits of a case. Once DCR issues a Finding of Probable Cause, the case will go to conciliation, where the parties will have the opportunity to negotiate a voluntary resolution. If no voluntary resolution is reached, DCR will appoint a Deputy Attorney General to prosecute the case either in the Office of Administrative Law or in Court.

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To view a Fact Sheet on disability discrimination and the rights of people with disabilities in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation under the LAD, please visit https://www.nj.gov/lps/dcr/downloads/fact-Disability-Discrimination.pdf.  People with disabilities who believe their rights under the LAD have been violated can file a complaint with DCR by visiting https://bias.njcivilrights.gov/ or calling 1-833-NJDCR4U (833-653-2748).

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The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights enforces the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Family Leave Act, and the Fair Chance in Housing Act, and works to prevent, eliminate, and remedy discrimination and bias-based harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation throughout New Jersey.

To find out more information, go to www.njcivilrights.gov.

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