Employees Who Use Marijuana to Treat Debilitating Diseases Are Protected Under Michigan Law
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CINCINNATI – The American Civil Liberties Union today told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that its lawsuit charging Wal-Mart and the manager of its Battle Creek, Mich. store with wrongfully firing an employee for using medical marijuana should be reinstated. The patient, Joseph Casias, used marijuana outside of work to treat the painful symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer.
The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, passed by the state’s voters in 2008, protects medical marijuana patients from “disciplinary action by a business.” But in a 20-page ruling issued in February 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit after deciding the law does not prevent businesses from firing employees who use medical marijuana in accordance with a doctor’s recommendation and state law.
“The voters of Michigan who enacted the medical marijuana act wanted to help very sick people like Joseph Casias,” said Scott Michelman, ACLU cooperating attorney who argued the case today. “No one should ever have to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment, but Wal-Mart forced Joseph to pay a stiff and unfair price for his medicine.”
The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan, in partnership with the law firm Targowski & Grow PLLC, filed a lawsuit in 2010 against Wal-Mart after Casias, the 2008 Associate of the Year at Wal-Mart’s Battle Creek location, was fired from his job for testing positive for marijuana despite being legally registered to use the drug. In accordance with the law, Casias never ingested marijuana while at work and never worked while under the influence of marijuana.
During oral arguments today, the ACLU asserted its case should be reinstated both because the case belonged in Michigan state court where the ACLU originally filed it, and because the lower court ignored the text of the state’s medical marijuana law prohibiting companies like Wal-Mart from firing patients like Casias.
“The people of Michigan, through our own state court system, should be allowed to interpret Michigan law,” said Daniel Grow of Targowski and Grow PLLC. “Michigan voters passed the medical marijuana act by an overwhelming margin.”
Casias has suffered for more than a decade from sinus cancer and a brain tumor in the back of his head and neck that was the size of a softball when it was first diagnosed. His condition has required extensive treatment and chemotherapy, interferes with his ability to speak and is a source of severe and constant 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.
The pain medication Casias' oncologist had prescribed for him prior to the passage of the state’s medical marijuana law provided only minimal relief and as a side effect caused Casias to suffer from severe nausea. After the law was enacted, his oncologist recommended that Casias try marijuana as permitted by state law. Casias obtained the appropriate registry card from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The results were immediate and profound: his pain decreased dramatically, the new medicine did not induce nausea and Casias was able to gain back some of the weight he had lost during treatment.
“This is an important case for anyone who uses medical marijuana as recommended by a doctor in the 17 states and the District of Columbia where laws provide protections for them,” said Daniel Korobkin, staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan. “Patients across the country who rely on this medication for pain relief are paying close attention.”
Additional information about the case is available online at: