HELENA — Three former employees of a Missoula medical marijuana business that has helped thousands of patients get their state marijuana card sued its owner Thursday, alleging that he ordered hundreds of card applications to be falsified.
The wrongful-discharge lawsuit filed in state District Court in Missoula also accused Jason Christ of the Montana Caregivers Network of verbally abusing its employees, using company funds for personal expenses, driving a company van while smoking marijuana and creating a “hostile work environment” that essentially forced the three workers to quit June 18.
“(The employees) were exposed to unbearable working conditions, they were directed to participate in actions that were unlawful and they were directed to engage in unethical business practices directed against physicians and others,” the suit said.
Christ, contacted late Thursday, said he hadn’t had a chance to review the suit or its allegations and declined to comment. He said he expects to respond later.
Christ and his Montana Caregivers Network have been two of the most visible figures in the explosion of medical marijuana use and businesses in Montana within the past year.
The network has held traveling “medical screening clinics” across the state where prospective patients line up to see physicians who can consult with them and approve them for a medical marijuana card.
The network also has arranged video conferencing between physicians and patients.
Christ is a medical marijuana patient himself, often seen in public smoking the drug in a long pipe — most notably outside the state Capitol, after testifying at recent legislative hearings on proposals to tighten regulation of the state’s medical marijuana program.
The lawsuit, filed by Tiffany Klang, John Phillips and Nicole Harrington of Missoula, seeks back wages and punitive damages from Christ for his “malicious conduct.”
Chris Lindsey, a Helena attorney representing the three employees, said they joined the business because they cared about helping medical marijuana patients, but when Christ began going against his own physicians’ recommendations, “it was really too much for them,” and they quit.
Lindsey is a partner in Montana Cannabis, a medical marijuana caregiver business in Helena that indirectly competes with Christ. However, Lindsey said he’s ending that partnership because he’s spending more time doing legal work for medical marijuana caregivers, patients and physicians from all over the state.
The suit said that in January, Christ developed a new procedure that required physicians working with the Caregivers Network to submit thousands of signed certifications for marijuana cards that were blank.
A doctor outside the state would meet with a patient by video conference and make an assessment. If the patient had a debilitating disease that qualified for marijuana, the physician made a note in the company database and another employee would fill out the certification and submit it to the state with the patient’s application, the suit said.
Yet in March, Christ ordered employees to take all pending and denied patient applications and submit them to the state, along with the signed, blank certificates — whether the patients qualified or not, or had even seen a physician, the lawsuit alleged.
The suit said Christ ordered employees to fill in the certificates and say all of these patients suffered from “chronic pain,” which is one of the conditions that can qualify a patient for medical marijuana. Nearly 70 percent of the almost 23,000 Montanans with a marijuana card have “chronic pain” as a diagnosis.
Christ falsely told staffers that his actions were the result of negotiations with state health officials, the suit said.
The day before they quit in June, the three employees said they ran a report showing that 84 patients had been rejected for a card after seeing physicians at Caregiver Network events in Kalispell, Helena and Missoula.
Christ ordered them to fill out the blank, pre-approved certifications as approved, using the signatures of the very doctors who had rejected the patients as unqualified, the lawsuit said.
Lindsey said the three employees gave their information to law enforcement officials soon after they quit.
Harrington was an executive assistance to Christ; Phillips was a call center manager and Klang worked as office manager. They each had been working at the Caregivers Network for several months before quitting.