The tension’s been heating up for several years between state and local medical marijuana laws and various federal and state laws.
Courts have mostly upheld the right of employers to terminate workers who test positive for marijuana during random workplace drug testing. State and local laws legalizing marijuana use within a particular jurisdiction don’t trump federal laws criminalizing its use or affect federal workplace bias laws, those courts have said.
But some medical marijuana card holders fired for their use of the drug have fared better in pressing disability discrimination claims.
For example, an assisted living facility in Michigan said it fired a nursing administrator for medical marijuana use, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged that she was really let go because of her epilepsy. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan sided with the commission, and found in April 2015 that it raised a jury issue under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
And here's a recent federal court decision under District of Columbia law.
In Coles v. Harris Teeter LLC, a newly hired cashier with glaucoma was sacked by the grocery chain after a random drug test uncovered his marijuana use. Trevis Coles was terminated despite allegedly excelling at his job and presenting his store manager with a valid prescription for the drug.
Denying in part Harris Teeter’s bid to get Coles’ ensuing lawsuit thrown out of court, the judge in the case ruled that Coles stated a plausible disability discrimination claim under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.
Coles doesn’t just allege that he was discharged because he violated Harris Teeter’s substance abuse policy, the court said. He claims he was fired for his disability as well as his treatment via marijuana, the court found.
He further pointed out that the company’s policy “is more than a bit hazy” on whether lawful marijuana use is a violation of Harris Teeter work rules, the court added. And another employee who tested positive multiple times for cocaine use, but who wasn’t disabled, supposedly was not fired, the court said.
That’s enough to raise an inference that Coles might have been terminated because of his disability, the court concluded.
But Coles can’t pursue a claim that Harris Teeter violated District of Columbia public policy by firing him, the judge ruled.
D.C.’s Prohibition of Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Act, the judge said, “seems to leave room for employers to remove workers who fail a drug test for marijuana or violated workplace drug prevention policies.”
It remains to be seen whether more jurisdictions will jump on the medical marijuana train, and whether the Trump administration will attempt to derail that train. However, the laws in at least 11 states or localities, including D.C., either require employers to reasonably accommodate medical marijuana users or prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees based on their medical marijuana use.
As more cases are brought in these and other parts of the country, it will be interesting to see how the law on this issue continues to take shape and whether “President Trump” will blunt the momentum towards more liberal medical marijuana laws.
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