Courts continue to rule that companies can fire employees for using medical marijuana to treat their illnesses.
Worker Discrimination On Medical Marijuana Use
A federal judge in Colorado ruled on Aug. 21 that a worker at a beer company could not sue his employer for discrimination because it fired him for using pot. Paul Curry, a former worker at Chicago-based MillerCoors, had sued his boss after he was let go for violating the company’s drug-free workplace policy.
Curry has hepatitis C and osteoarthritis, and was prescribed medical marijuana to treat those conditions. Medicinal pot has been legal in Colorado since 2000; the state voted in November to legalize all weed, including recreational possession and use.
Curry sued his boss, claiming the beer manufacturer fired him over his disability and the medicine he uses to treat it. Such lawsuits have been growing in number as medical marijuana regimes conflict with anti-pot policies at work. The legal issues at play are likely to get even more attention once full legalization takes hold.
Employers Hold The Right To Discriminate
So far, the news has not been good for marijuana advocates. Judges have repeatedly held that employers are within their rights to fire workers for using pot, regardless of its legality at the state level.
In his August ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge John Kane dismissed Curry’s suit and held that medical marijuana law doesn’t create protections against standard workplace anti-drug policies.
“Enforcing its policy is a lawful basis for MillerCoors’ decision to discharge Mr. Curry,” Kane said in his judicial order. “Despite concern for Mr. Curry’s medical condition, anti-discrimination law does not extend so far as to shield a disabled employee from the implementation of his employer’s standard policies against employee misconduct.”
Not Good News…
Curry’s attorney, Travis Simpson, said that he didn’t know whether his client would appeal. The decision “didn’t go the way we were hoping it would go and he kind of dodges some constitutional issues we raised,” Simpson said, while calling the ruling well-reasoned.
Kane’s decision marks the second setback this year for Colorado employees who use medical marijuana. In April, the state Court of Appeals ruled that Dish Network was in the right when it fired a quadriplegic worker because he used medical pot.
The state has a “lawful activity” statute designed to protect workers from getting fired for off-the-job activity, but the appeals court held that it didn’t apply because pot is still illegal at the federal level.
There have been a few attempts to pass state and even federal laws to safeguard the employee rights of medical pot users. But few have gotten very far. For the time being, every toker, legal or otherwise, who works for a zero-tolerance company has a lot to fear.