ACLU Says Lawsuit Charging Wal-Mart With Wrongfully Firing Medical Marijuana Patient Should Proceed

November 12, 2010

Michigan State Law Passed In 2008 Protects Employees Who Use Marijuana To Treat Debilitating Diseases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – The American Civil Liberties Union today told a federal judge that its case against Wal-Mart for wrongfully firing an employee for lawfully using medical marijuana in accordance with state law to treat the painful symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer should proceed.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan, in partnership with the law firm Daniel W. Grow PLLC, filed a lawsuit in June charging that Joseph Casias, 30, the Battle Creek, MI Wal-Mart's employee of the year in 2008, was wrongfully fired last year for testing positive for marijuana despite being legally registered to use the drug under Michigan's medical marijuana law. In accordance with the law, Casias never ingested marijuana while at work and never worked while under the influence of marijuana.

"No patient should be forced to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment, and no employer should be allowed to intrude upon private medical choices made by employees in consultation with their doctors," said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project. "Wal-Mart forced Joseph to pay a stiff and unfair price for using a medicine that is allowed under state law and that has had a life-changing positive effect for him."

In today's arguments before U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker, the ACLU said the court should deny a motion filed by Wal-Mart seeking dismissal of the case and that it should reject Wal-Mart's attempts to have the case, initially filed in state court in Battle Creek, tried in federal court, instead.

Casias has suffered for more than a decade from sinus cancer and a brain tumor in the back of his head that was the size of a softball when it was first diagnosed. His condition has forced him to endure extensive treatment and chemotherapy, interferes with his ability to speak and is a source of severe and consistent pain. Nonetheless, he had been successfully employed for more than five years by Wal-Mart in Battle Creek, where he began as an entry-level grocery stocker in 2004 and worked his way up to inventory control manager.

After Michigan voters enacted the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act in 2008, Casias' oncologist recommended he try marijuana as permitted by state law since the drugs Casias had previously been prescribed provided only minimal relief and caused severe nausea. Casias obtained the appropriate registry card from the Michigan Department of Community Health and experienced immediate and profound results: his pain decreased dramatically, the new medicine did not induce nausea and he was able to gain back some of the weight he lost during treatment. 

"No corporation should be able to flout state law," said Daniel W. Grow, a St. Joseph, MI.-based attorney and co-counsel in the case. "Michigan voters decided medical marijuana use should be permitted because they recognized its ability to alleviate the pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with debilitating medical conditions."

Michigan's medical marijuana law protects patients registered with the state from being "denied any right or privilege" including being subjected to "disciplinary action by a business" for the use of medical marijuana as recommended by a doctor in accordance with state law. The law does not require employers to accommodate the ingestion of marijuana in the workplace and does not protect employees who work under the influence of the drug.

"This case is being closely watched by patients in the 13 other states and District of Columbia that also provide protections for patients who use marijuana as recommended by a doctor," said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director for the ACLU of Michigan. "Many patients around the country rely on this medicine for pain relief, and on their state laws for protection against unscrupulous employers."

A copy of the ACLU's lawsuit is available online at: www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform/casias-v-wal-mart-complaint

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