|Photo: Missoula Independent|
|Jason Christ, owner of Montana Caregivers Network, is accused of unethical business practices in a lawsuit filed by three former employees on Thursday.|
“(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.
|Photo: Eliza Wiley/AP|
|Jason Christ of Montana Caregivers Network demonstrates how he administers cannabis to himself in tincture form on May 18 in Helena, Montana.|
Christ said late on Thursday that 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 the MCN have been highly visible figures on the burgeoning medical marijuana scene in Montana in the past year.
The network has held traveling “medical screening clinics” across Montana where prospective patients line up to see physicians who can consult with them and approve them for a medical marijuana card.
The network has also engaged in the controversial practice of arranging video conferencing between physicians and patients for medical marijuana authorizations.
Christ, a medical marijuana patient himself, is often seen in public smoking cannabis in a long-stemmed pipe, most notably outside the state Capitol after testifying at recent legislative hearings on proposals to tighten Montana’s medical marijuana law.
The lawsuit, filed by former employees Tiffany Klang, John Phillips and Nicole Harrington of Missoula, seeks back pay and punitive damages from Christ for what it calls his “malicious conduct.”
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,” according to Chris Lindsey, a Helena attorney representing the three, and they quit.
Lindsey is a partner in Montana Cannabis, a medical marijuana caregiver business in Helena that indirectly competes with Christ’s Montana Caregivers Network. But Lindsey said he is ending that partnership because he is spending more time doing legal work for medical marijuana caregivers, patients and physicians all over Montana.
According to the lawsuit, Christ developed a new procedure in January that required physicians working with MCN 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 medical 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, according to the suit.
But Christ ordered employees in March 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 suit alleged.
The suit claimed 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 in Montana.
Nearly 70 percent of the 23,000 Montanans with a marijuana card have “chronic pain” as a diagnosis.
The suit said Christ falsely told staffers that his actions were the result of negotiations with state officials.
The day before the three employees quit in June, the suit said they ran a report showing 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 disgruntled employees gave their information to law enforcement officials soon after they quit.
Harrington worked as an executive assistant to Christ. Phillips was a call center manager, and Klang worked as office manager. They had each been working at the Caregivers Network for several months before quitting.