The California Supreme Court has ruled that an employer does not discriminate against an employee on the basis of disability under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by refusing to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana.
In the case decided by the Court, the former employee suffered from strain and muscle spasms in his back as a result of injuries he sustained while serving in the United States Air Force. Because of his condition, the Court noted that the plaintiff in the case was a qualified individual with a disability under the provisions of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Sometime after the approval by the voters of Proposition 215 known as the Compassionate Use Act, permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the former employee began to use marijuana to relieve his pain, based upon his physician’s recommendation.
Thereafter, the employer offered the Plaintiff a job. The employer required plaintiff to take a drug test. Before taking the test, plaintiff gave the clinic that would administer the test a copy of his physician’s recommendation for his marijuana use. The clinic informed him that he had tested positive for marijuana use. At that point, the employer suspended him. The Plaintiff then informed his new employer of his physician’s approval to use marijuana to deal with his pain. However, the employer terminated the employee because of his marijuana use.
In his lawsuit, the former employee claimed that the employer violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act by discharging him, because of his disability and by failing to make reasonable accommodation for his disability. Plaintiff also alleged that the employer terminated his employment wrongfully, in violation of public policy.
The California Supreme Court reasoned that the Compassionate Use Act did not give marijuana the same status as any legal prescription drug. No state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes, because the drug remained illegal under Federal law. The Compassionate Use Act merely exempted medical users and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under two specifically designated state statutes. Nothing in the text or history of the Compassionate Use Act suggested the voters intended that the measure would address the rights and obligations of employers and employees. The Supreme Court concluded that the Fair Employment and Housing Act did not require employers to accommodate the use of illegal drugs.
The California Supreme Court recognized that it was lawful for an employer to condition an offer of employment on the results of a medical examination, and that such an examination may include drug testing. Employers may deny employment to persons who test positive for illegal drugs. The Compassionate Use Act did not eliminate marijuana’s potential for abuse or the employer’s legitimate interest in whether an employee uses the drug. Marijuana is illegal under Federal law because of its high potential for abuse, its lack of any currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and its lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. The Compassionate Use Act did not require employers to accommodate marijuana use by their employees.