California Labor &
Employment Law Blog
Jan 24, 2008

California Supreme Court Upholds Employers’ Right to Terminate Employees for Medical Marijuana Use

Topics: Court Decisions, Discrimination, Harassment & Retaliation, Employee Hiring, Discipline & Termination

Earlier today the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Ross v. RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc. and held that an employee who was fired for failing a drug test due to medical marijuana use does not have a valid claim for disability discrimination or wrongful termination against the employer.

The plaintiff in that case applied for and was offered a position as a systems administrator with RagingWire. In connection with his hiring, he was required to take a drug test, and three days later started work for RagingWire. Later the same week, RagingWire received plaintiff's drug test results, which were positive for marijuana, and suspended plaintiff. Plaintiff provided RagingWire with a doctor's note explaining that he was medically prescribed marijuana to treat chronic back pain. Notwithstanding the doctor's note, RagingWire terminated plaintiff's employment.

Plaintiff subsequently sued RagingWire for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate a disability under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. He also alleged a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, arguing that RagingWire's termination of his employment contravened the public policy behind California's Compassionate Use Act (the California statute exempting users of medically prescribed marijuana from criminal liability under certain state laws).

The California Supreme Court found that plaintiff did not have any valid claims against RagingWire. In so holding, the Court explained, "The FEHA does not require employers to accommodate the use of illegal drugs." The Court also rejected plaintiff's argument that the Compassionate Use Act (the "Act") was intended to protect users of medical marijuana not only from criminal liability, but also from adverse employment action, reasoning that the Act does not even mention employment law, and that its text and legislative history suggest that the Act's limited purpose was to exempt medical marijuana users from criminal liability under state law. As a result, the Court declined to interpret the Act to impose any new requirement on employers to accommodate medical marijuana use.

Based on the Court's decision, California employers may continue enforcing otherwise valid drug-testing policies that preclude employment in the event of a positive test result for illegal drugs, even if the drug in question is medically prescribed marijuana. Employers are, of course, cautioned to ensure that their drug-testing policies and procedures comply with California law and are applied consistently among applicants and employees. Please contact us directly to discuss any questions you have regarding the effect the Court's decision may have on your workplace.

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