Case Background

Medical marijuana is legal in Michigan.  When Joseph Casias was 17, he was diagnosed with sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor.  When Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008, Casias’ oncologist recommended he use marijuana for relief of pain and side effects of other pain medications.  Casias used marijuana while employed at a Wal-Mart in Battle Creek, Michigan, although he made sure never to be under its influence while at work.

When Casias was injured on the job, company policy required that he be administered a drug test.  He tested positive for marijuana and was fired a week later.  Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act states that “a qualifying patient . . . shall not be subject to arrest or . . . disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau . . . .”  Casias sued Wal-Mart for wrongful discharge and violation of the Act, claiming that the law proscribes “disciplinary action [against a medical marijuana patient] by a business.”

The Court’s Decision

A federal District Court and Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the statute, as written, refers to three types of licensing boards or bureaus—business, occupational, and professional.  The appellate court reasoned that the statute precluded disciplinary action by only the specified licensing boards, and not by a private business.  Since the law offered Casias no protection from termination, the court saw no reason to overturn Wal-Mart’s firing of Casias notwithstanding his immunity from criminal prosecution related to possession or use of marijuana.

This is a case of the court’s holding that a legislature meant what it said, irrespective of what it might have meant to say.  More careful drafting or punctuation of the Michigan Act might have saved Casias’ job.  Perhaps the Michigan legislature will amend its Medical Marijuana Act to state more clearly that an employee who is a legally permitted user may not be disciplined by an employer for its use.  Until then, casually drafted statutes will remain a trap for the unwary.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of workplace-related claims and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield and resolving such issues.  (203) 221-3100.