And for nearly 13 years, Leon Hagins was one of the people who fed them. The 56-year-old cook was a fixture at the Lincoln Lab cafeteria, where his irrepressible positivity, relentless work ethic, and unfailingly friendly customer service earned him the respect and friendship of his co-workers and legions of scientists.
In fact, people who worked there described Hagins as perhaps the most popular person on the sprawling defense research campus — or at least he was, until a minor kitchen accident in 2017 spurred his employer, food contractor Sodexo, to drug test and fire Hagins for using marijuana during his off hours.
If the name Sodexo sounds familiar, it’s probably because the company is already infamous for firing a worker simply because she tested positive for pot: Bernadette Coughlin, whose case went viral last year after my colleague Nestor Ramos wrote about it.
The Sodexo firings underline a contradiction in Massachusetts law, under which marijuana is legal but employers are still permitted to sack (or decline to hire) workers for using it, regardless of whether there’s evidence they were impaired on the job.
Sodexo’s firing of Coughlin — an apparent attempt to avoid paying her workers’ compensation claim following a fluky slip-and-fall accident at the hospital cafeteria where she worked — drew widespread condemnation and prompted state Senator Jason Lewis to file a bill that would make it harder for companies to terminate employees just because they consume cannabis. The measure is currently pending before the Massachusetts Legislature’s judiciary committee, cochaired by state Senator Jamie Eldridge.
“I’m extremely disturbed that a company could or would fire someone for using a drug that’s legal in Massachusetts,” Eldridge said in an interview. “It’s definitely something that the Legislature needs to address this session.”