Attorney: Bridgeport illegally scrubbed firefighter candidate over medical marijuana use
BRIDGEPORT — James Bulerin III has dreamt of following in his father’s footprints and becoming a city firefighter.
But city officials have dashed those dreams because Bulerin has a medical marijuana card and tested positive for the drug.
“The city has disqualified him from being a firefighter which is a clear violation of the state law,” said Bulerin’s lawyer, Thomas Bucci, who this week filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city on his client’s behalf. “As long as he is not using the drug during working hours, he can’t be denied an employment opportunity,” Bucci said.
A hearing on the suit is scheduled for Feb. 21 in Superior Court here and, depending on a judge’s decision, the case could end up before the state Supreme Court — which has not yet reviewed the state’s medical marijuana law.
Assistant City Attorney John Bohannon confirmed that he will argue the case for the city but declined comment until the hearing.
On May 31, 2012, Connecticut became the 17th state in the country to approve medical marijuana when Gov. Dannell Malloy signed HB 5389, “An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana,” or PUMA.
Under the state law, “No employer may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize (,) or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver.”
“There is no exception for public safety positions,” Bucci said.
And while the state’s highest court has yet to render an opinion on the law, Bucci said a federal judge has already upheld it.
That case involved a Connecticut woman who used marijuana to treat PTSD. She received a job offer from a nursing home, but when she tested positive for cannabis on a pre-employment drug test, her job offer was rescinded. She then sued under PUMA.
There are currently 27,340 patients in the state’s medical marijuana program, nine dispensing facilities and 30 conditions approved for medical marijuana.
In his lawsuit, Bucci stats that Bulerin passed all the eligibility requirements to become a city firefighter but then volunteered that he has a medical marijuana card after a medical exam determined he had marijuana in his system.
In a letter obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media to Bulerin on Jan. 23, City Personnel Director David Dunn states: “You were offered conditional employment as an entry level firefighter with the City of Bridgeport, contingent upon passing all pre-employment screens. This is to advise you that you tested positive for marijuana and this conditional offer is being rescinded effective immediately. You will not be moving forward in this process and your name has been removed from the eligibility list.”
Bucci said his client has been using medical marijuana for six months. He would not disclose the condition Bulerin takes the marijuana for but said that condition would not affect his ability to serve as a firefighter.
“The plaintiff did not lack any of the established qualification requirements for the position of firefighter in the Bridgeport Fire Department; the plaintiff is physically fit to effectively perform the duties of the position of firefighter,” the lawsuit states. “He has satisfied the physical requirements for the position and passed the physical agility component of the selection process; the plaintiff is not addicted to the habitual use of drugs or intoxicating liquors.”
Bulerin’s father, James Bulerin Jr., became a city firefighter since 2009 after initially being rejected for having a minor criminal record.