Federal agency sues Maryland medical marijuana firm over sexual harassment

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A Maryland medical marijuana operator has been charged with violating federal law by subjecting several dispensary employees to sexual harassment, a potentially costly problem for mainstream businesses that could impact the cannabis workplace.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court against Maryland Health Management, doing business as Nature’s Medicines, and Arizona-based AMMA Investment Group, which provided human resources and other business services to the dispensary.

The EEOC charges that the former general manager of Nature’s Medicines dispensary in Ellicott City, Maryland, subjected at least three employees to a sexually hostile work environment from around July 2018 to the fall of 2019 that included touching, highly suggestive sexual comments and showing an employee a nude picture on his cell phone.

Officials at Maryland Health Management and AMMA Investment couldn’t be reached for comment.

The EEOC claims that the general manager told an employee that, because of his industry connections, he could prevent staffers from getting jobs at other dispensaries if anyone complained about him.

“Sexual harassment is even more pernicious when it is committed by a general manager,” EEOC Philadelphia District Office Regional Attorney Debra Lawrence said in a news release.

“Managers have a heightened responsibility to prevent sexual harassment, not engage in it.”

The general manager allegedly continued his harassment of a gay man and two female employees for months despite employee complaints. The defendants failed to act even after putting in place an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy in 2019, the suit alleges.

The EEOC claims the defendants investigated the general manager only after receiving a notice that an employee had filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in August 2019.

The general manager was terminated in October 2019, a year after the first complaint to human resources.

The EEOC said it tried but was unable to reach a pre-litigation agreement with the two defendants.

The lawsuit could be costly to the defendants.

In addition to asking that the defendants be ordered to conduct workplace training and never engage in such discrimination again, the EEOC is requesting a jury trial to determine compensation to the employees for losses, including for “emotional pain, suffering, depression, inconvenience, mental anguish, embarrassment.”