9.21.2012

Sixth Circuit Rules That Medical Marijuana Law Does Not Govern Private Employment Actions

On September 19, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Casias v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 6th Cr. No. 11-1227, held that Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Act does not regulate private employment and, therefore, did not protect a Wal-Mart worker authorized to use marijuana for medical reasons from being fired after he failed a drug test.

The Casias case involved a claim for wrongful discharge and violation of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA). The plaintiff, Joseph Casias, had worked as an inventory-control manager at a Wal-Mart store in Battle Creek, Michigan since 2004. He received a medical marijuana registry card from the state in June, 2009 that allowed him to use the drug to manage pain he suffered as a result of sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor. In November of 2009, Casias suffered an injury at work and went to the hospital. While at the hospital, Casias received a standard drug test as required by Wal-Mart policy for injuries that occur on the job. Prior to the test, he showed his registry card to the testing staff.

As predicted, Casias’s test came back positive for marijuana. Casias immediately met with his shift manager to explain the positive test result. He showed his manager the registry card and explained that he never smoked marijuana at work or came to work under the drug’s influence. Regardless, Wal-Mart’s corporate office ordered the store manager to terminate Casias’s employment because of the failed drug test which violated Wal-Mart’s drug-use policy.

The MMMA was enacted in 2008 to provide protection for the medical use of marijuana. It prohibits, in part, “disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau” against a person to whom the state has issued a registry card for the use or administration of medical marijuana. Although the MMMA does not refer to employment, Casias argued that the term “business,” as used in the Act, was independent and, therefore, caused Wal-Mart to fall within the Act. The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument, holding instead that the word “business” merely describes or qualifies the type of “licensing board or bureau.”

In so holding, the Sixth Circuit explicitly declined to adopt Casias’s interpretation of the Act, finding that such interpretation could possibly prevent any company in the state from imposing any discipline on a qualifying patient who uses marijuana under the Act. The Sixth Circuit noted that its holding was in line with that of courts in California, Montana, and Washington that have likewise determined that similar state medical marijuana laws do not govern private employment action.

Additionally, the Sixth Circuit held that the store manager who communicated the termination decision to Casias could not be held personally liable for wrongful discharge under Michigan law where there was no evidence that the manager was a causal factor in the termination decision and his role was simply to communicate the decision. The Court explained that, to hold otherwise, could make any individual who participates in the communication of a corporate decision a proper defendant in a wrongful discharge cause of action.

The take away of the Casias decision is that courts are not likely to find that state medical marijuana laws regulate the disciplinary decisions of private business unless the statutes expressly provide for such regulation.



Contact: Emily Wilcheck
419.254.5260

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