Fired Walmart Worker Wins Case Under Arizona Medical Marijuana Act

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, Brightmine Legal Editor

February 15, 2019

A federal judge has ruled that a fired Walmart employee who had a state medical marijuana card has a valid discrimination claim under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). The company had suspended the employee without pay and then terminated her after a post-accident drug screen came back positive.

The AMMA provides that an employer cannot discriminate in hiring, termination or any other term or condition of employment solely based on a qualifying medical marijuana patient's positive drug test. At the same time, the Arizona law does not require a company to allow any employee to work while impaired or under the influence of marijuana.

However, the court ruled that the employee's positive drug screen alone was not enough to support any claim by Walmart that she was impaired while at work. It noted that the plaintiff, Carol Whitmire, was tested after a workplace accident in which a bag of ice fell on her wrist.

The store had found Whitmire was not at fault and the accident could have as easily happened to a customer. But after Whitmire complained to HR of continued pain and swelling in her wrist, the company directed her to undergo a wrist examination at an urgent care clinic, as well as a post-accident drug test. Whitmire advised personnel at the clinic that she was a medical marijuana cardholder - for arthritis and chronic shoulder pain - prior to the test.

The court concluded there was nothing to show that Whitmire used, possessed or was impaired by marijuana on the job. Thus, it rejected Walmart's defense and found the company discriminated against her under the AMMA.

The ruling is in line with a number of court decisions in the past two years that have cleared the way for similar lawsuits. For instance, a federal court in Connecticut held in 2017 that the federal marijuana ban did not preempt a Connecticut law protecting job applicants and employees from discrimination based on medical marijuana use. A Delaware court recently reached a similar result.

Meanwhile, a Rhode Island state court found an employer liable for refusing to hire a medical marijuana cardholder for a paid internship because she could not pass a pre-employment drug test. And the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that a newly-hired employee who was terminated after testing positive for marijuana could sue her former employer for handicap discrimination under state law.