BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A Buffalo firefighter returns to work this week after he settled his wrongful termination lawsuit with the City of Buffalo and the fire department, which terminated him in 2021 for testing positive for cannabis despite being a registered medical patient.
Scott Martin, an Air Force veteran who served two tours in the Middle East, was a Buffalo EMT and firefighter for over a decade, when he got suspended in December 2020 for testing positive for cannabis on a random workplace test.
The collective bargaining agreement between the city and the fire department establishes the protocol for workplace drug testing, but it does not address registered medical users like Martin.
Martin was deemed a certified medical patient in 2018 to help relieve chronic back pain, sleepless nights and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Martin told News 4 Investigates last year that he informed the person who gave him the drug test that he was a certified medical patient, but “they didn’t know what to do.”
Two months after Martin got suspended, the fire department and city terminated his employment.
Martin filed a union grievance and a wrongful termination lawsuit in state supreme court to force the city to acknowledge his rights as a medical cannabis patient and return him to work.
Among the legal arguments in Martin’s lawsuit was that state law prohibits entities from discriminating against medical marijuana patients.
The city, on the other hand, argued that the collective bargaining agreement prohibits use of drugs and that allowing active members to use medical cannabis could jeopardize the city’s ability to secure funding from the federal government, which still outlaws cannabis use and requires drug-free workplaces.
In court filings last year, the city also argued that it would be faced with too much liability if it were to allow firefighters and other public safety workers to use cannabis, even if it is legitimately prescribed.
Martin said he never used while at work and that the positive test only indicated that he had cannabis metabolites in his system, not when he last used. He told News 4 that he used the medical cannabis after work shifts and would never use the medicine while on the job.
At the end of September, Supreme Court Justice Catherine N. Panepinto rejected the city’s arguments by ruling against its request for a summary judgement that sought to dismiss Martin’s case.
David Holland, Martin’s attorney, confirmed that the settlement requires Martin to be reinstated to his same rank, seniority and salary he had prior to his termination. In addition, the city agreed to acknowledge Martin’s rights as a medical cannabis user.
The city also agreed to provide Martin with $242,000 in back pay.
Holland said the case was the first in the state in which a government employee challenged his termination as a protected medical cannabis user under the state’s Compassionate Care Act.
“The parties’ agreement to Martin’s reinstatement and the recognition of his rights under the Compassionate Care Act is a reasonable resolution to this dispute,” Holland said. “At the national level, I expect to see parties to collective bargaining agreements come to similar accommodations and resolutions.”
The city’s corporation counsel office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.