Friday, December 16, 2011

Nurse’s Suit Alleges Firing In Violation Of AMMA

A for-profit hospice in Cottonwood is now a defendant in a lawsuit over allegations it fired a nurse because of her status as a Qualifying Patient (QP) cardholder under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).  Whether this is the first case to test the limits of the AMMA’s employment discrimination protections is hard to tell, but it certainly is going to be a closely watched one.

The suit claims that the hospice, Verde Valley Community Hospice, LLC,  hired Esther M. Shapiro in late July 2011.  Shapiro allegedly became a legally registered QP Cardholder the month before she was hired by the hospice.

According to the suit, Shapiro started her employment as a nurse, visiting and caring for hospice patients in their homes, on August 3, 2011.  For reasons not explained in the court papers, Shapiro went through the hospice’s training and orientation program about two weeks after her start date, during which she allegedly was told that she had to pass a “pre-employment” drug screen as a condition of continued employment.

The lawsuit alleges that Shapiro immediately disclosed her QP status to her supervisor, the hospice’s nurse manager, Donna Gould.  Gould allegedly was “visibly upset by the information.”  Shapiro went to the drug testing facility and provided a sample for testing as required.

Here is where the facts take a strange turn.  Shapiro alleges that she was fired the next day by Gould, who allegedly told her that the hospice’s insurance carrier had directed the adverse employment action, because the insurer believed she was too much of a liability risk.  Shapiro does not allege that she was told she had failed the drug test.

Another strange twist occurred a month after Shapiro’s firing, when she received notice from the state Board of Nursing that the hospice had made a complaint against her license.  The hospice allegedly told the Board of Nursing that an unidentified hospice employee had smelled marijuana on Shapiro’s person, and that she had been required to submit to – and presumably failed – a “for cause” drug test. 

Shapiro denies in the suit that she ever had used, possessed, or been under the influence of marijuana on the hospice’s premises or during her working hours.

The hospice has not yet responded to the lawsuit, and it may take many months to sort out the true facts.  But if the allegations are true, the Cottonwood hospice appears to be an Arizona employer who was not prepared to deal with the workplace issues presented by the AMMA.  Arizoneout will monitor the case and provide updates and analyses in future posts.

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