N.Y. city may pay $242K settlement to firefighter-EMT fired over medical marijuana use
Scott Martin, an Air Force veteran who worked at the Buffalo Fire Department for 12 years, said he uses cannabis to treat PTSD and pain
By Deidre Williams
The Buffalo News
BUFFALO, N.Y. —A Buffalo firefighter who was fired for his medical marijuana use is poised to receive a $242,000 settlement from the City of Buffalo.
Scott Martin, a 12-year veteran with the Buffalo Fire Department, was fired from his job in February 2021 after testing positive for marijuana.
Martin, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he is a certified medical marijuana patient who uses cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and back pain. Cannabis has greatly improved his health and well-being, he said.
"If anything, I think it makes me a better firefighter because I don't have the issues like I did," Martin told The News after a court proceeding in September.
At the September hearing, State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto rejected the city's motion to dismiss the case, indicating she would continue reviewing arguments from each side before making a decision on whether Martin can return to his job.
The court system changed the case's status to "settled" on Thursday.
Attorney David Holland, who represents Martin, declined comment.
It is unclear if Martin, 38, who comes from a long family line of firefighters, will be allowed to return to work.
Martin filed a lawsuit on May 5, 2021, against the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Fire Department seeking to be reinstated to his position, rank and seniority. More importantly to him, he wanted to return to Truck 14 in the 1st Platoon.
"Since that day," he said of when he was fired, "I have been stripped of my job, my seniority, my firehouse assignment, and most importantly, my dignity — all for being a state-certified medical marijuana patient," Martin said in an affidavit.
The Buffalo Common Council's Claims Committee on Wednesday recommended approval of the $242,000 settlement proposal, and it is expected to be voted on by the full Council at its Nov. 29 session.
Martin submitted to a random drug test on Dec. 15, 2020, in accordance with the firefighter union's collective bargaining agreement, according to court documents.
Prior to giving a urine sample, Martin informed the person administering the test that he was a certified medical marijuana patient under the Compassionate Care Act and that he would test positive for marijuana.
The Compassionate Care Act protects medical marijuana patients from unlawful adverse employment actions and mandates that patients like Martin are free from discrimination, his lawyer has contended.
Martin produced to the person administering the test his medical marijuana registry identification card issued by the New York State Department of Health.
Martin's permitted use of medical marijuana did not impose any unreasonable or undue hardship on the department, according to court papers his lawyer filed.
Attorney Michael Risman, who has been retained by the city, told the judge at the September hearing the Compassionate Care Act did not apply to Martin as a city firefighter. The city was bound by the labor agreement with the firefighters' union to administer the drug testing and abide by the results, Risman said at the hearing.
The city has framed its legal defense around protecting the safety of residents.
"Scott Martin's union and the city have bargained over, adopted, and continued their drug and alcohol testing contractual provisions, waiving the union members' individualistic rights," according to a court filing from the city earlier this year. "The decision to do so is rational and supported by public policy.
"Our children are caught in attics during fires, desperately needing the timely, un-slowed responses of physically fit and qualified firefighters," according to the filing. "Our parents, suffering cardiac arrest, desperately need the quick and un-slowed ministrations of department members. Our firefighters, entering burning structures, deserve to work safely alongside their co-workers. At what point does the individualistic preference of a sole member — re-framed by Scott Martin as a 'right' and even 'disability' — trump the crying need of our community to fully qualified first responders, unaffected by substances? The fire commissioner was right. He wanted to protect our children, our parents. And the union was right, too: They were willing to submit to the city's proposed drug policy."
Martin has said he preferred taking the medical marijuana to the medications his doctors prescribed to treat his back pain like the opioid OxyContin and later shots of Tramadol into his lower spine.
He consumed medical cannabis at night prior to bedtime but never at the firehouse or immediately prior to appearing for duty, he has said.
The city fired him on Feb. 23, 2021, after urine samples tested positive for marijuana metabolites, basing the termination on the firefighter union's collective bargaining agreement. That agreement, however, hasn't been updated since medical marijuana was legalized in the state in 2014, his attorney has said.
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In 2003, Martin was deployed to Tallil, Iraq — a "hot zone" particularly dangerous due to armed conflict. The assignment ended after seven "traumatic" months there, Martin said in his affidavit.
Then he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he and his fellow service members were subject to regular rocket and other terrorist attacks, he said.
He is still haunted by his time in those high-risk combat areas.
"That PTSD not only deprives me of sleep and emotional stability but causes me in down moments to become introverted and less communicative as I wrestle with these demons," Martin said in his affidavit. "When I finally discovered medical marijuana and could legally use it as a certified medical patient under the Compassionate Care Act, my life changed for the better and allowed me to get through these bouts in a less anxious, traumatized manner so that they would pass more quickly and less devastatingly from the moment of onset."
Despite the PTSD and back pain, Martin said in his lawsuit he is "ready, willing and able to perform all of the duties and responsibilities of his position" as a firefighter with "reasonable accommodation" from the city to permit his continued home use of medical cannabis.
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