The American Civil Liberties Union today urged a federal appeals court to reinstate its lawsuit against Wal-Mart and the manager of its Battle Creek store for wrongfully firing an employee for using medical marijuana in accordance with state law. The patient, Joseph Casias, used marijuana to treat the painful symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer.
The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, passed by the state’s voters in 2008, protects medical marijuana patients from “disciplinary action by a business.”
But in a 20-page ruling issued in February, U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit after deciding the law does not mandate that businesses like Wal-Mart make accommodations for employees like Casias who are medical marijuana patients.
The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan, in partnership with the law firm Targowski & Grow PLLC, filed a lawsuit last year against Wal-Mart after Casias, the Battle Creek, Michigan Wal-Mart’s 2008 Associate of the Year, was fired from his job at the store for testing positive for marijuana despite being legally registered to use the drug. In accordance with the law, Casias never ingested marijuana while at work and never worked while under the influence of marijuana.
“The lower court’s ruling failed to uphold the will of Michigan voters, who clearly wanted to protect medical marijuana and facilitate its use by very sick people like Joseph Casias,” said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project. “No one should ever have to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment, but Wal-Mart forced Joseph to pay a stiff and unfair price for using a medicine that has had a life-changing positive effect for him.”
In its brief filed today with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the ACLU argued its case should be reinstated, both because the case belonged in Michigan state court where the ACLU originally filed it, and because the lower court ignored the text of the state’s medical marijuana law prohibiting companies like Wal-Mart from firing patients like Casias who use marijuana in accordance with state law.
“It is imperative that the people of Michigan, through our own state court system, be allowed to interpret Michigan law,” said Daniel Grow of Targowski & Grow PLLC. “A Michigan jury deserves the opportunity to hear Joseph’s claim, so this case should be sent back to a state court where we filed it.”
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 required 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.
The pain medication Casias' oncologist had prescribed for him prior to the passage of the state’s medical marijuana law provided only minimal relief and as a side effect caused Casias to suffer from severe nausea.
After the law was enacted, his oncologist recommended that Casias 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.
“This appeal is an important development for patients who use marijuana as prescribed by a doctor in the 15 states and the District of Columbia where laws provide protections for them,” said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Patients across the country who rely on this medication for pain relief are watching this case.”