You can be fired for using medical marijuana, justices rule
Employers in Washington state are allowed to fire employees who fail a drug test, even if they have valid medical-marijuana authorization, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
It turns out that you can be fired for legally using medical marijuana in Washington state.
The Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that TeleTech Customer Care, a Colorado-based firm that handles customer service for Sprint from its Bremerton facility, was allowed to fire a woman for failing its required drug test.
The plaintiff, who sued under the pseudonym Jane Roe, was pulled out of her training class after a week and fired Oct. 18, 2006, because she failed a pre-employment drug test. She had a valid medical-marijuana authorization from a doctor.
In court documents, the company said its contract with Sprint required drug testing and makes no exception for medical marijuana.
Roe's attorney argued that state law implied employers had to accommodate medical-marijuana use outside the workplace. The court disagreed in a 8-1 decision, explaining that the law explicitly permits employers to disallow on-site medical-marijuana use, but remains mum about medical-marijuana use outside the workplace.
The state Supreme Court majority opinion noted that the state Human Rights Commission, which investigates employee discrimination cases, cannot pursue claims related to medical-marijuana use because it is illegal under federal law.
Michael Subit, Roe's attorney, said the law needs to be modified to protect employees' right to use medical marijuana outside of work.
"The court said it wasn't clear enough, so I hope the Legislature or the voters [through the initiative process] make it clear enough that no one can mistake it in the future," he said.
Justice Tom Chambers wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that voters' intent in passing the medical-marijuana law in 1998 was to protect patients prescribed marijuana for medical purposes.
He pointed out that TeleTech had a drug-screening policy that prohibited employees from using marijuana, even if it did not affect job performance. In fact, TeleTech did not argue or offer evidence that the marijuana Roe used to control migraines impaired her ability to work.
Chambers wrote that the court's decision "jeopardizes the clear policy" of the 1998 voter initiative and would discourage other people from seeking legal medical-marijuana treatment for fear of losing their jobs.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
J.B. Wogan: 206-464-2206 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published June 9, 2011, was corrected June 9, 2011. A previous version of this story said the court decision was 7-1. The justices voted 8-1.
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