HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A lawyer for a labor union urged the Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday to rule that the firing of a state worker caught smoking marijuana in a state-owned vehicle while on the job was too harsh a punishment.
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. He had no previous disciplinary problems since being hired in 1998 and had received favorable job evaluations, according to his 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 decision 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, which is expected to rule in a few months.
Barbara Collins, an attorney representing the union, argued that the trial judge was wrong.
The state attorney general’s office said 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.
A spokeswoman for UConn Health said safety is the top priority for patients and employees.
“We have no tolerance for any employee under the influence of illegal drugs at our health care workplace,” spokeswoman Lauren Woods said.
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; he believed smoking pot helped to alleviate his worries, according to Collins.
Collins wrote in court documents that Linhoff’s conduct was not so egregious that he should be denied a second chance.