Washington Court: OK to Terminate Employee for Medical Marijuana Use

June 16, 2011

A Washington Supreme Court has ruled that it is OK for an employer to terminate an employee for violating its no drug policy, even though the employee is in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana law.

According to court documents in Jane Roe v. Teletech Customer Care Management, Roe was under care of a doctor who authorized her to use medical marijuana to treat her debilitating headaches, which caused chronic pain, nausea, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light.

In October 2006, TeleTech offered Roe a position as a customer service representative, contingent upon reference and background checks, and a negative drug screening. The policy emphasized that noncompliance would result in being ineligible for employment.

Upon the offer, Roe informed TeleTech of her medical marijuana use, and offered to provide the company with a copy of her doctor’s authorization. She also noted she only used the medical marijuana at her home. The company declined a copy.

Roe took a drug test and began training for work as a CSR. But later that month, upon receiving the positive drug test, TeleTech terminated her employment.

Roe filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, saying TeleTech terminated her employment in violation of the Washington State Medical Use of Marijuana Act (MUMA) and TeleTech terminated her employment in violation of a clear public policy allowing medical marijuana use in compliance with MUMA.

TeleTech asserted MUMA does not provide employment protections to medical marijuana users or a civil cause of action against a private party. The company also said “federal law precluded MUMA’s authorization of medical marijuana use. Finally, TeleTech argued MUMA has a narrow purpose — namely, to provide users and physicians with an affirmative defense under state drug laws, not to broadly entitle users to employment protections.”

The court ruled that “MUMA provides only an affirmative defense to criminal prosecution under state drug laws and does not imply a civil cause of action.”

Furthermore, the court said that because Roe claimed her medical marijuana use at her home at night allowed her to be “productively employed” the next day, she was acknowledging that the drug continued to influence her some time after ingestion.

“MUMA’s language and court decisions interpreting the statute do not support such a broad public policy that would remove all impediments to authorized medical marijuana use or forbid an employer from discharging an employee because she uses medical marijuana. MUMA’s only reference to employment is an explicit statement against requiring employers to accommodate medical marijuana use,” the court said.

Thus, it concluded, “MUMA does not prohibit an employer from discharging an employee for medical marijuana use, nor does it provide a civil remedy against the employer. MUMA also does not proclaim a sufficient public policy to give rise to a tort action for wrongful termination for authorized use of medical marijuana.”

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