"Tar-Baby Material": Ex-Employee Accuses Trulieve of Racial Discrimination

According to the lawsuit, a Trulieve store manager told Black workers not to touch the counters because they would "make them dirty."
Stock photo of a Trulieve cannabis dispensary lobby
Stock photo of a Trulieve cannabis dispensary lobby Photo by Trulieve
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A former Trulieve employee has sued the cannabis giant, claiming it fired him in retaliation for raising concerns over anti-Black prejudice in the workplace.

In a federal lawsuit filed on January 26, John Sullivan claims his store manager regularly made racist comments toward employees — including telling Black workers not to touch the counters because they would "make them dirty" and calling Sullivan "tar-baby material."

Sullivan, who was hired as a patient consultant at Trulieve's Lake City dispensary in August 2021, says the manager also referred to certain Black people as "the good ones and not the poor ones."

After he routinely protested the treatment, Sullivan alleges, the company transferred him to another facility and re-assigned him to a job as a cannabis plant trimmer. Then, in July 2022, he was fired, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit (attached at the bottom of this story) seeks a trial by jury. The complaint notes that Sullivan has a mixed-race background with darker skin.

Neither Trulieve nor Sullivan's attorney have responded to New Times' request for comment.

Trulieve is by far Florida's largest medical marijuana operator, with more than twice as many dispensaries as Curaleaf, its nearest competitor as measured by volume of flower sold.

Floridians legalized medical marijuana through a ballot initiative in November 2016, with 71 percent of voters supporting the measure, which far surpassed the 60 percent super-majority it needed to pass.

The lawsuit was filed against the backdrop of a cannabis industry that extends few opportunities to people of color. In 2022, Black entrepreneurs made up less than two percent of the nation's marijuana business owners.

Trulieve has touted its diversity program as a means to buck the trend. The company says the program focuses on finding minority-run cannabis suppliers, sponsoring expungement workshops for people with marijuana convictions, and working with advocacy groups such as Minorities 4 Medical Marijuana.

In April 2023, Trulieve settled a lawsuit with a Black former manager who accused the cannabis operator of paying her and other Black workers less than white employees. According to MJBizDaily, the company reached a settlement with the ex-manager, Brooke Bennett, who worked at the company’s St. Petersburg call center from August 2018 to 2022.

The Lake City dispensary, where Sullivan worked, opened in 2020 as the company's 72nd store nationwide and was the first to open in Columbia County. Located in the small city between Tallahassee and Jacksonville, the dispensary operates in a shopping center on U.S. Highway 90 beside a Panera Bread.

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