Yesterday, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) requested that a federal appeals court reinstate its lawsuit claiming that Wal-Mart wrongfully fired an employee in Battle Creek, MI, who was using medical marijuana to treat his brain tumor and cancer.
Two months ago, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker dismissed the case, maintaining that medical marijuana law in Michigan doesn’t require companies to “accommodate employees who are medical marijuana patients,” or bar them from firing such employees for drug use.
In yesterday’s filing with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, the ACLU argued that Jonker failed to take into account that the state of Michigan’s medical marijuana law does have verbiage prohibiting businesses from firing patients who use the drug in compliance with state law. As well, the ACLU said, the case belongs in the state court where it was originally filed.
The employee involved in the case is Joseph Casias, who used marijuana to treat pain associated with an inoperable brain tumor and cancer. He was fired after he tested positive for the drug in 2009. This act, the ACLU argued, is in violation of the 2008 Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which protects MMJ users from “…disciplinary action by a business.” ACLU attorney’s representing Casias had also pointed out that he never used marijuana at work, or worked while stoned or high.
In a statement, Scott Michelman, a staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project said, “The lower court’s ruling failed to uphold the will of Michigan voters, who clearly wanted to protect medical marijuana and facilitate its use by very sick people like Joseph Casias. No one should ever have to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment, but Walmart forced Joseph to pay a stiff and unfair price for using a medicine that has had a life-changing positive effect for him.”
Wal-Mart, on the other hand, maintains that it was right in firing Mr. Casias.
Company spokesperson Greg Rossiter called it, “…unfortunate situation all around…” and said the company was “…sympathetic to Mr. Casias’s condition.” Rossiter also said that Casias’s employment was a safety issue, explaining, “Walmart has to consider the overall safety of our customers and our associates, including Mr. Casias. When we have to make a difficult decision like the one we did, ultimately the issue for us is the ability of our associates to do their jobs safely.”
In addition, Rossiter said that since there is no guidance within the law on how to deal with employees who test positive for drugs, even in states where medical marijuana is legal, it is company policy to defer to federal law, under which use of the drug remains illegal.