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A continuing care retirement community is facing a federal civil rights discrimination lawsuit from a woman who claims the operator withdrew a job offer over her legal use of medical marijuana.

In a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania District Court, Michelle Ustaszeski-Hutchinson accused Allentown, PA-based Phoebe-Devitt Homes, doing business as Phoebe Ministries, of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and state discrimination laws.

Ustaszeski-Hutchinson alleges that she received an employment offer to be a resident care assistant at Phoebe Richland in Richlandtown, PA, in January. A month later, however, she claims an email informed her the offer was rescinded based on information collected during a pre-employment screening. 

Phoebe Ministries President and CEO Scott R. Stevenson told McKnight’s that he is aware of the filing but that as a matter of policy cannot discuss an ongoing legal matter.

“At Phoebe Richland, we strive to maintain an accommodating and welcoming work environment that exceeds regulatory guidelines, including those related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we take great care to ensure our hiring practices are fair and thorough,” he said.

Providers nationwide are grappling with whether to drop pre-employment marijuana testing as the drug becomes legal for medical and recreational use in more states. Skilled nursing providers and those hiring direct care workers to help residents must navigate a difficult legal maze because pot remains illegal at the federal level, legal experts recently told McKnight’s.

How a federal court will handle Ustaszeski-Hutchinson’s claims and balance the government’s disability law with its strict Schedule I drug laws could determine whether other providers across the U.S. relax their drug screening policies.

Pennsylvania allows only medical use of marijuana.

Ustaszeski-Hutchinson’s April complaint said she was legally using medical marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder. She said she presented her medical marijuana card during her medical examination and drug screening, which were part of the hiring process. She also said she sent a copy of the card to the company’s medical review officer.

Two weeks later, Ustaszeski-Hutchinson said, she received the email rescinding her employment offer. The complaint maintains that Phoebe Ministries acted in a “bigoted, willful and malicious manner” in withdrawing its employment offer based on her perceived disability as an illegal drug user. As a consequence, the complaint states, Ustaszeski-Hutchinson was subjected to “humiliation, embarrassment and mental anguish.”

Ustaszeski-Hutchinson is seeking lost pay, benefits, lost future pay, compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.