Wal-Mart sued for ‘wrongfully firing’ cancer patient over medical marijuana
Attention Wal-Mart employees, doctor prescribed treatment for a pre-existing condition may get you fired if you get injured on the job.
Legal medication is “not the relevant issue” just “safety” for the corporation that has been accused of forcing “many towns to hike the cost of public safety by adding more police personnel, increased patrols, and even police substations right in the Wal-Mart parking lots” because “it is a magnet for criminal activity.”
“The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan, in partnership with the law firm of Daniel W. Grow, PLLC, filed a lawsuit today against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and the manager of its Battle Creek store for wrongfully firing an employee for using medicinal marijuana in accordance with state law to treat the painful symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer,” a press release sent to RAW STORY announced Tuesday.
Reporting for Michigan’s Free Press, Gina Damron adds that the thirty-year-old Joseph Casias, 30, “is in remission for sinus cancer, and uses marijuana to alleviate his pain.”
At the recommendation of his oncologist, Casias applied with the state so he could legally use marijuana and, in June 2009, received his card from the Michigan Department of Community Health, the lawsuit says.
Dan Korobkin, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, said today that Casias only uses the drug at night and never used it at work or came to work under the influence.
In November 2009, Casias twisted his knee at work while pushing a cart. The next day at work, he had trouble walking, and was driven by a store manager to receive treatment. The lawsuit claims Wal-Mart has a policy requiring drug tests for employees injured at work.
Though Casias showed a store manager his card indicating he could legally use marijuana under state law, he was ultimately fired for testing positive for the drug, the lawsuit says.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said in a statement that it is an “unfortunate situation all around.” It said it is sympathetic to Casias’ condition, but said it is an issue of customer and employee safety.
“The doctor prescribed treatment was not the relevant issue. The issue is about the ability of our associates to do their jobs safely,” the company said. “As more states allow this treatment, employers are left without any guidelines except the federal standard.”
The ACLU press release continues,
The lawsuit charges that Joseph Casias, 30, the Battle Creek Wal-Mart’s 2008 Associate of the Year, was fired from his job at the store after testing positive for marijuana, despite being legally registered to use the drug under Michigan’s medical marijuana law. In accordance with state law, Casias never ingested marijuana while at work and never worked while under the influence of marijuana.
“Medical marijuana has had a life-changing positive effect for Joseph, but Wal-Mart made him pay a stiff and unfair price for his medicine,” said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU. “No patient should be forced to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment, and no employer should be allowed to intrude upon private medical choices made by employees in consultation with their doctors.”
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 forced him to endure 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.
“For some people, working at Wal-Mart is just a job, but for me, it was a way of life,” said Joseph. “I came to Wal-Mart for a better opportunity for my family and I worked hard and proved myself. I just want the opportunity to continue my work.”
In 2008, Michigan voters enacted the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which provides protection for the medical use of the drug under state law. The pain medication Casias’ oncologist had previously prescribed for him provided only minimal relief and as a side effect caused Casias to suffer from severe nausea. After the law was enacted, Joseph’s oncologist recommended that he try marijuana as permitted by state law, and so 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.
“Joseph is exactly the kind of person whom Michigan voters had in mind when they passed the state’s medical marijuana law,” said Daniel W. Grow, a St. Joseph, Michigan-based attorney. “Medical marijuana is legal in this state because voters recognized its ability to alleviate the pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with debilitating medical conditions, and no corporation doing business in Michigan should be permitted to flout state law.”
Michigan’s medical marijuana law protects patients registered with the state of Michigan from “arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner” for the use of medicinal marijuana as prescribed by a doctor and also protects employees from being disciplined for their use of medical marijuana in accordance with the law. The law does not require employers to accommodate the ingestion of marijuana in the workplace and does not protect employees who work under the influence of the drug.
The outcome of today’s lawsuit, filed in Calhoun County Circuit Court, could have ramifications beyond Michigan.
“Today, 14 states and the District of Columbia provide protections for patients who use marijuana as recommended by a doctor,” said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “This case will be closely watched by patients across the country who rely on this medicine for pain relief and on their state laws for protection against unscrupulous employers.”
Lawyers on the case include Grow, Michelman, Moss and Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.
A copy of the today’s complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform/casias-v-wal-mart-complaint
Additional information about the ACLU’s work to reform drug laws is available online at: www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform
Additional information about the ACLU of Michigan is available online at: www.aclumich.org