WA Supreme Court rules Colorado company within its rights to fire employee for medical marijuana use

The Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday that TeleTech, a Colorado-based company, was within its rights when it fired a woman–with a valid medical marijuana card–when she tested positive for marijuana.

The woman, who was fired in 2006, sued and lost on an 8-1 vote, with the court saying that even with a valid medical marijuana card and even with no claims from the company that she was working while impaired, the company was still within its rights in firing her.

TeleTech, headquartered in Englewood, has more than 50,000 employees worldwide.

From The Seattle Times:

It turns out that you can be fired for legally using medical marijuana in Washington state.

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that TeleTech Customer Care, a Colorado-based firm that handles customer service for Sprint from its Bremerton facility, was allowed to fire a woman for failing its required drug test.

The plaintiff, who sued under the pseudonym Jane Roe, was pulled out of her training class after a week and fired Oct. 18, 2006, because she failed a pre-employment drug test. She had a valid medical-marijuana authorization from a doctor.

In court documents, the company said its contract with Sprint required drug testing and makes no exception for medical marijuana.

Michael Subit, Roe’s attorney, said the law needs to be modified to protect employees’ right to use medical marijuana outside of work.

“The court said it wasn’t clear enough, so I hope the Legislature or the voters [through the initiative process] make it clear enough that no one can mistake it in the future,” he said.

Justice Tom Chambers wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that voters’ intent in passing the medical-marijuana law in 1998 was to protect patients prescribed marijuana for medical purposes.

Bob Livingston, director of marketing communications at TeleTech, emailed this statement to The Colorado Independent:

While we do not comment on specific details related to employee matters, we are pleased with the Supreme Court of Washington’s ruling in the case of Jane Roe vs. TeleTech Customer Care Management, LLC. The Court’s decision in TeleTech’s favor protects the rights of our U.S. employees to work in a safe and drug-free work environment.

In addition, the ruling protects our business rights to implement policies that allow us to deliver high-quality service to our client’s customers. We are committed to maintaining a drug-free work environment for the protection of our client’s customers’ confidential information.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Subit, said the case involved only state law and so cannot be taken any further.

“When I talk to people in the state, and I mean non-lawyers, no one thinks it is OK to fire a person for using medical marijuana at home. She did not come to work impaired. She did not come to work after using marijuana and the company never claimed she did.”

He said he is hopeful that either the state legislature or voter initiative will come forward to make it clear that someone with a medical marijuana permit cannot be fired for using marijuana.

“The law is not intended to allow someone to come to work impaired, but it is intended to allow someone to use medical marijuana at home if it does not interfere with their work,” he told The Colorado Independent.

In Colorado, a Coors employee, Paul Curry, was fired after testing positive for marijuana. Also a medical marijuana patient, he recently won an unemployment case against Coors.

Curry’s attorney, Rob Corry, provided this comment by email:

My comment on the Washington case: The Roe case out of Washington is easily distinguishable from Mr. Curry’s action to be brought in Colorado, as Ms. Roe did not assert a claim for discrimination based upon disability, and that will be our chief claim in Mr. Curry’s case. Moreover, Colorado’s Constitution has stronger protections for medical marijuana patients than Washington statutes, and Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws are more solid precedent.

Subit said his client did not meet the criteria to file a discrimination complaint based on disability at the time that the Washington suit was filed, but that she would meet that standard today.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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