HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Thursday on whether a state employee who was fired for smoking marijuana on the job was punished too harshly and should be reinstated.
Gregory Linhoff was fired from his maintenance job at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington in 2012 after a police officer caught him smoking pot in a state vehicle. He had no previous disciplinary problems since being hired in 1998 and had received favorable job evaluations, according to his labor union. He was arrested, but the charges were later dismissed.
Linhoff appealed the discipline to an arbitrator, who ruled the firing was too extreme and Linhoff instead should be suspended without pay for six months and subjected to random drug and alcohol testing for one year. The arbitrator said that while state rules and policies on drug and alcohol use allow for firing first-time offenders like Linhoff, they do not mandate it.
The state appealed to a Superior Court judge, who overturned the arbitrator’s award on the grounds that it violated Connecticut’s public policy against marijuana use. Linhoff’s union, the Connecticut Employees Union Independent SEIU, appealed the judge’s ruling to the Supreme Court.
The state attorney general’s office says a decision in favor of the union would send a worrisome message that the state tolerates drug use and other criminal activity by state workers on the job.
At the time Linhoff was fired, he was seeking treatment for depression, stress and anxiety because his wife had filed for divorce and he had a cancer scare, and he believed smoking pot helped to alleviate his worries, according to labor unions lawyer Barbara Collins.
Collins is arguing that Linhoff’s conduct was not so egregious that he should be denied a second chance.