BATTLE CREEK, MI – The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Michigan, in partnership with the law firm of Daniel W. Grow, PLLC, has filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and the manager of its Battle Creek store for wrongfully firing an employee for using medicinal marijuana in accordance with state law to treat the painful symptoms of an inoperable brain tumor and cancer.
The lawsuit charges that Joseph Casias, 30, the Battle Creek Wal-Mart's 2008 Associate of the Year, was fired from his job at the store after testing positive for marijuana, despite being legally registered to use the drug under Michigan's medical marijuana law. In accordance with state law, Casias never ingested marijuana while at work and never worked while under the influence of marijuana.
"Medical marijuana has had a life-changing positive effect for Joseph, but Wal-Mart made him pay a stiff and unfair price for his medicine," said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU. "No patient should be forced to choose between adequate pain relief and gainful employment, and no employer should be allowed to intrude upon private medical choices made by employees in consultation with their doctors."
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 forced him to endure 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.
"For some people, working at Wal-Mart is just a job, but for me, it was a way of life," said Joseph. "I came to Wal-Mart for a better opportunity for my family and I worked hard and proved myself. I just want the opportunity to continue my work."
In 2008, Michigan voters enacted the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which provides protection for the medical use of the drug under state law. The pain medication Casias' oncologist had previously prescribed for him provided only minimal relief and as a side effect caused Casias to suffer from severe nausea. After the law was enacted, Joseph's oncologist recommended that he 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.
"Joseph is exactly the kind of person whom Michigan voters had in mind when they passed the state's medical marijuana law," said Daniel W. Grow, a St. Joseph, Michigan-based attorney. "Medical marijuana is legal in this state because voters recognized its ability to alleviate the pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with debilitating medical conditions, and no corporation doing business in Michigan should be permitted to flout state law."
Michigan's medical marijuana law protects patients registered with the state of Michigan from "arrest, prosecution, or penalty in any manner" for the use of medicinal marijuana as prescribed by a doctor and also protects employees from being disciplined for their use of medical marijuana in accordance with the law. The law does not require employers to accommodate the ingestion of marijuana in the workplace and does not protect employees who work under the influence of the drug.
The outcome of today's lawsuit, filed in Calhoun County Circuit Court, could have ramifications beyond Michigan.
"Today, 14 states and the District of Columbia provide protections for patients who use marijuana as recommended by a doctor," said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. "This case will be closely watched by patients across the country who rely on this medicine for pain relief and on their state laws for protection against unscrupulous employers."
Lawyers on the case include Grow, Michelman, Moss and Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan.
A copy of the today's complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform/casias-v-wal-mart-complaint