A federal judge in Fresno recently ruled that although medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, employees who use the drug can be fired. The judge ruled that employers do not violate California’s laws against workplace discrimination when they terminate an employee based on his or her use of marijuana, even if the marijuana use is related to a medical condition.
The case at issue involved a man who was hired by Kohl’s in 2006 as a material handler in Patterson. He was promoted to assistant shift supervisor in 2007. In 2011, he was diagnosed with anxiety and started using marijuana with the approval of his doctor. He did not tell his employer about his marijuana use.
In 2012, the company revised its policy to prohibit discrimination in hiring and firing of employees who used medical marijuana in states in which the drug was legal, as long as the employees did not use it at work and did not have any effects while they were at work.
In 2014, the man hurt his back while unloading cargo and was sent to the Kohl’s health care provider, which gave him a drug test and found marijuana in his system. He was suspended five days after and later was terminated. Kohl’s told the man that he had acted in conflict of interest with Kohl’s by reporting to work while under the influence of drugs. The man says that he had last used marijuana several days before the drug test and that he was never under the influence of marijuana at work.
The man sued Kohl’s, claiming that the company had violated its own policy as well as California law. The judge ruled against the plaintiff, finding that although medical marijuana users are protected from criminal prosecution, they do not have any protection from discrimination in hiring and firing decisions. The judge found that Kohl’s was not motivated to fire the worker because of his disability, but instead because of his treatment for the disability.
The judge noted that California has a right of privacy which may restrict an employer’s ability to order drug tests. However, in this case the man knew company policy allowed drug test during medical treatment, and he consented to the test he was given. The judge did find that Kohl’s may have violated its non-discrimination policy by firing the plaintiff. Advocates for the use of medical marijuana took issue with the ruling, arguing that voters who approved the medical marijuana law intended to give the same rights to medical marijuana users as users of other prescription drugs.
If you have been fired because of your use of medical marijuana, you may have an uphill battle to prove that your employer violated the law. However, if you can prove that your employer actually fired you because of your underlying disability, you may be entitled to damages such as lost wages, emotional damages, and lost benefits.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty and Seth I. Rosenberg believe that no employees should be discriminated against because of a disability or because of the underlying treatment. If you have been discriminated against, call the Oakland discrimination attorneys at Liberty Law at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. We can help. We work with clients throughout the Bay area, including San Francisco, Hayward, Tracy, Fairfield, San Jose, Berkeley, Sacramento, and the surrounding areas. Call today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation on your case. We do not charge any legal fees until we obtain compensation for you.