State Supreme Court Rules Medical Marijuana Law Does Not Protect Employees from Being Fired

News Release: 
Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Washington Supreme Court today ruled against an authorized patient who was fired for using medical marijuana, even though there was no evidence that its use interfered with her job performance. In a disappointing 8-1 opinion, the Court found that the Washington Medical Use of Marijuana Act does not protect employees who are discharged for exercising their right to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The ACLU of Washington submitted a friend-of the-court brief in the case (Roe v. TeleTech) saying that her termination was wrongful, pointing out that her at-home use of marijuana had had affected job safety or her work performance. The Medical Use of Marijuana Act was adopted in 1998 via a ballot initiative and enables individuals suffering from specified medical conditions to use marijuana with the recommendation of their physician.

“Washington’s voters have supported the right of authorized patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, and the ruling interferes with the ability of patients to exercise their right under the medical marijuana law,” said ACLU-WA legal director Sarah Dunne. “The use of medicinal marijuana comes from a private decision between a physician and patient.  Employers should respect that decision. When a job is not safety-sensitive and an employee’s performance is not impaired, a patient should not be forced to choose between a physician-authorized treatment and gainful employment.”

The case arose from the 2006 firing of authorized medical marijuana patient Jane Roe (who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity) from a company called TeleTech Costumer Care Management. Roe suffers from severe migraine headaches and turned to medical marijuana because conventional medications did not provide sufficient relief. She was hired by TeleTech to be a customer service consultant, which required answering phones and responding to e-mails.

Roe informed TeleTech about her medical use of marijuana during the hiring process, providing the company with a copy of her physician’s authorization. She worked at TeleTech in Bremerton for over a week without issue. However, when Roe’s drug screening tested positive for THC, an active ingredient of marijuana, she was fired. Roe filed suit in Kitsap County in 2007.  

The ACLU-WA brief said the termination violated clear Washington policy recognizing the right of patients to use marijuana. Unfortunately, the Washington Supreme Court held that the medical marijuana law does not provide a private cause of action for wrongful discharge based on medical marijuana use and also that there is no clear public policy that supports a wrongful discharge claim in violation of such a policy.

The ACLU-WA’s brief was written by Matthew Carvalho of Yarmuth Wilsdon Calfo, PLLC and ACLU-WA drug policy director Alison Holcomb and policy advocate Mark Cooke.