WA Court Says no Remedy against Employers for Medical Marijuana Users

October 22, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Washington Court of Appeals has held that there was no implied cause of action arising from the Washington State Medical Use of Marijuana Act (MUMA) against an employer that refused to hire a prospective employee who failed a pre-employment drug test due to her medical use of marijuana.

Jackson Lewis reports that the MUMA permits physicians to prescribe marijuana for medical use for terminal and debilitating illnesses and exempts from criminal prosecution those authorized users of medical marijuana and their prescribing physicians.  The Court said, “[T]he plain language of MUMA’s preamble does not demonstrate any intent to address employers’ hiring practices nor does it preclude the operation of drug-free businesses.”  Accordingly, the court held that the MUMA did not create a civil remedy against employers by authorized medical marijuana users.

The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the MUMA created an implied cause of action against employers by medical marijuana users because it prohibited medical marijuana users from being “penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege,” finding that the plaintiff took the sentence out of context and ignored the statute’s “earlier limiting reference to those charged with violating a state criminal law relating to marijuana — that is, those charged and subject to criminal prosecution.”

According to Jackson Lewis, the court also said MUMA could not impose a duty for employers to “accommodate an employee’s medical use of marijuana outside the workplace where MUMA expressly creates no such duty inside the workplace.”  The court pointed out that it was unlikely that voters who passed the MUMA referendum intended to create such “sweeping changes” to current employment practices “when prior statutes imposing duties on private employers have done so only with explicit language.”

The court further held that the employer did not wrongfully terminate the plaintiff’s employment in violation of Washington’s public policy.

According to the news account, the plaintiff sought and obtained authorization under MUMA to use medical marijuana to treat her migraine headaches.  When she received a conditional offer of employment from a telemarketing company, and the company informed her of its drug-testing requirement, she told the employer of her at-home medical use of marijuana. 

The plaintiff underwent a drug test and tested positive for marijuana. The employer rescinded its conditional offer of employment, and the plaintiff sued the employer for violations of the MUMA and for wrongful termination based on public policy. A trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment.

The case isRoe v. TeleTech Customer Care Mgmt. (Colorado), LLC,No. 38531-7-II (Wash. Ct. App. 2009).