MTA Employee Claims He Was Suspended, Forced Into Rehab For Using Legal Medical Marijuana

An MTA employee says he was suspended without pay and labeled an “addict” for using medically prescribed marijuana to treat a chronic pain condition caused by on-the-job accident.

Myles Watson, a technician for New York City Transit, filed a notice of claim for $5 million on Monday, alleging that the MTA’s actions amount to disability discrimination. It’s the latest in a string of ongoing lawsuits accusing local agencies — including the NYPD and the FDNY — of taking an outdated enforcement approach to medical marijuana use.

In this case, the 43-year-old Watson said the MTA suspended him without pay shortly after his drug test came back positive this past October. To get his job back, he was forced to enroll in narcotics counseling programs that require four sessions a week. “No one can be cured of addiction in less than 45 days,” one counselor allegedly told him.

Watson said he uses cannabis — including the non-psychoactive CBD — to alleviate severe neck and back pain that he suffered in a 2017 crash at work. He has a medical marijuana prescription, and has never used the drug while on the job, the filing states.

“The city and the state are acting like it’s 1970,” the attorney, John Scola, told Gothamist. “They’re putting archaic policies ahead of the health of their employees.”

While city law bars pre-employment marijuana testing, public agencies that take federal money are still required to drug test employees in safety-sensitive jobs, according to the MTA.

But Scola told Gothamist the agency’s decision to suspend Watson was not based in federal safety regulations. Their refusal to offer his client a “reasonable accommodation” for his disability violates the city’s Human Rights Law, he added.

The suspension left Watson’s daughter without health insurance, and led to his car being repossessed, Scola said.

According to court papers, Watson said he was informed last week that he would be demoted to station cleaner once he finishes his rehab program. Even after he returns, he’s expected to complete three drug counseling sessions per week.

A spokesperson for the MTA said the agency does not comment on potential or pending litigation.