Tuesday, September 25, 2012

6th Circuit Uphold Wal-Mart's Firing of Employee Who Used Marijuana Under Michigan's Medical Marijuana Law

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision recently upholding the termination of a former Wal-Mart employee who had been prescribed medical marijuana under Michigan's Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), which was enacted in 2008.  

The employee, Joseph Casias, received a medical marijuana registry card from the state, and he began using the drug to manage his pain that stemmed from sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.  In November 2009, Casias injured his knee at work. He went to the hospital, where he received a standard drug test because of Wal-Mart policy. Prior to the test, he showed his registry card to the testing staff.  When the test inevitably came back positive for marijuana, Casias showed his shift manager, Troy Estill (who was later named as a defendant for terminating Casias) the registry card and told the manager that he never smoked marijuana at work or came to work under the drug's influence. However, Wal-Mart's corporate office in Arkansas ordered store manager Estill to fire Casias because of the failed test, and Estill did so on Nov. 24.

Casias sued the company and Estill for wrongful discharge and violation of the MMMA. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan decided that the MMMA “contains no language stating that it repeals the general rule of at-will employment in Michigan or that it otherwise limits the range of allowable private decisions by Michigan businesses.” The district court said the word “business” in the statute does not regulate private employment actions ( 764 F. Supp. 2d 914, 31 IER Cases 1565 W.D. Mich. (2011); (29 HRR 216, 2/28/11).  The 6th Circuit agreed.

Casias argued that the term “business” in the MMMA is independent, while Wal-Mart countered that it modifies the phrase “licensing board or bureau.” The Sixth Circuit sided with the company's interpretation.  As is done in cases calling for statute interpretation, and highlighting the importance of carefully crafting groundbreaking legislation like the MMMA, the Court ultimately held that the MMMA does not govern private employment actions and noted that other states, California, Montana, and Washington have found that their states' similar medical marijuana laws do not govern private employment actions.

The case is Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 6th Cir., No. 11-1227, 9/19/12

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