ACLU sues Walmart over worker's firing

Regarding Joseph Casias’ medical marijuana use

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) – A chain store is being sued after an employee said he was wrongfully fired when he failed a drug test.

Joseph Casias has a prescription for medical marijuana and says he uses it for pain from sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor he has been suffering from for the past 10 years.

He worked at the Walmart in Battle Creek for five years prior to his firing in November 2009. He didn’t use medical marijuana on the job or before work. He hurt himself on the job, and after that, had a routine drug test. That is when the controlled substance was detected.

Casias, 30, told 24 Hour News 8 he showed his managers his medical marijuana card, but eventually was fired anyway. He said he shouldn’t have been fired in a state where medical marijuana is legal.

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan, in partnership with the law firm of Daniel W. Grow, PLLC, filed the lawsuit against Walmart Stores, Inc. and the manager of its Battle Creek store.

The groups held a news conference Tuesday morning on the front steps of the Calhoun County Circuit Court to discuss the case.

In November 2008, voters in Michigan overwhelmingly approved the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which legalizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In compliance with state law, Casias received written certification from his oncologist and is a registered medical marijuana patient.

According to the text of the law at Michigan.gov, it says people using medical marijuana “shall not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, including but not limited to civil penalty or disciplinary action by a business or occupational or professional licensing board or bureau, for the medical use of marihuana in accordance with this act.”

But later on, it says, “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require … An employer to accommodate … any employee working while under the influence of marihuana.”

A rally was held March 14 in support of Casias outside the Battle Creek Walmart to protest. The group wanted him to get his job back, receive an apology from Walmart and a change in policy.

In a statement to 24 Hour News 8 late Tuesday afternoon, Walmart Media Relations Director Lorenzo Lopez said, “This is just an unfortunate situation all around. We are sympathetic to Mr. Casias’ condition but, like other companies, we have to consider the overall safety of our customers and associates, including Mr. Casias, when making a difficult decision like this. In this case, the doctor prescribed treatment was not the relevant issue. The issue is about the ability of our associates to do their jobs safely.

“This is becoming more of an issue. As more states allow this treatment, employers are left without any guidelines except the federal standard. In these cases, until further guidance is available, we will always default to what we believe is the safest environment for our associates and customers.”