August 28, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Hartford, CO – The University of Connecticut acted excessively when it fired a veteran mechanic for smoking marijuana on the job, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Aug. 19.
The court ordered the UConn Health Center to reinstate skilled maintainer Gregory Linhoff and give him back pay. Linhoff, who had worked at the health center for 15 years, had pleaded that being fired was too draconian a punishment for being caught lighting up in his work vehicle in 2012. His union, SEIU Local 511, argued that Linhoff, who was going through a divorce and had recently had a cancer scare, was “dealing with serious personal struggles” and “believed that smoking marijuana helped to alleviate stress and anxiety.” An arbitrator supported that claim, but the state appealed the award, charging that it “sends a message” that “drug use on the job will be tolerated.” A lower court held that the firing was justified because Linhoff’s job required him to drive trucks and work on rooftops. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling. While Linhoff had clearly violated rules against illegal drug use, it said, that was not “extraordinary” enough to overrule the arbitrator, as the mechanic had not caused any harm to people or property or endangered anyone but himself.