Methuen Woman Fights Firing Over Marijuana Use

Bernadette Coughlin was off work when she used marijuana, but her company, Sodexo, tested her after she fell and broke her arm

Until Tuesday, Bernadette Coughlin had never been to the Massachusetts State House in Boston. But after losing her job for smoking pot while off the job, she decided to share her story with lawmakers.

"I don't want to see this happen to somebody else," said Coughlin.

In May, Coughlin was working for Sodexo, a food contractor at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen. During her shift, she fell and broke her arm, at which point the company informed her their policy required a drug test. A recreational pot user, Coughlin failed her test, having used marijuana at home days earlier. She was notified a few days later that her employment would be terminated.

"I miss my job," Coughlin said. "I don't want people to be hurt at work and not report it because they're afraid they could lose their job and their benefits."

It is that concern that led to a meeting with Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville.

"It was just so counterproductive," said Jehlen. "She moved to Methuen to be near this job, and then they fired her."

The issue highlights the complexity of legalizing marijuana in a state when it is still considered illegal by the federal government. When voters approved the recreational use of the drug, Jehlen points out there was never any language to address how employers should respond.

"Every time you pass a law, you want to see how it works. And here we are," Jehlen said. "I'm hoping that the first thing that happens is that employers will revisit that kind of policy."

"Sodexo complies with the law and recognizes that this is an evolving legal and social issue. As many employers are currently doing, we are evaluating our policies in light of the changing landscape. As there is an active claim related to this matter and out of respect for the process, we are unable to provide additional details at this time," Sodexo spokesman Enrico Dinges wrote in a statement to NBC10 Boston.

Since her termination, Coughlin has hired an attorney to handle her arbitration with Sodexo. However, she hopes her case has a more lasting impact at the legislature.

"It makes me feel proud that I can do this," said Coughlin. "I guess I feel grateful."

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