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Walmart disregarded medical pot laws for injured worker: Judge

medical marijuana

A federal judge in Arizona on Thursday denied in part a summary judgment motion filed by Walmart over its firing of an injured worker and medical marijuana patient who failed a post-injury drug test, stating the company disregarded the state’s medical marijuana law.

Carol Whitmire had worked at two Wal-Mart stores since 2008, having received training on the store’s alcohol and drug-abuse policy that was consistent with federal laws banning marijuana as a controlled substance. By 2014, she had obtained a medical marijuana card, pursuant to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act of 2010, to help her sleep and to relieve pain associated with her arthritis and prior shoulder surgery, according to documents in Carol M. Whitmire v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., filed in United States District Court, District of Arizona, in Phoenix.

In May 2016, Ms. Whitmire hurt her wrist while leveling bags in the ice machine, an accident deemed in documentation as “not conclusive that the associate did not follow safe work practices[.] . . . This could have just as easily happened to a customer,” records state.

As part of Walmart policy, her visit with an urgent care facility included a drug screen, which showed levels of marijuana in her urine at the highest recordable levels, according to court records. She admitted that she had smoked marijuana at 2 a.m., 12 hours before her 2 p.m. shift at the store on the day of her accident, documents state.

Walmart’s personnel coordinator testified that "upon reasonable belief (Ms. Whitmire) positive test result for marijuana indicated that she was impaired by marijuana during her shift that same day."

Less than a month after her accident, Ms. Whitmire received a letter from the Industrial Commission of Arizona alerting her “that her employer's insurance carrier had been notified of her workers' compensation claim.” That same month, she received two “Notices of Claim Status from the Industrial Commission of Arizona regarding her workers' compensation claim, both of which were dated June 22, 2016. …One of these letters indicated that Plaintiff's claim was accepted, but that no compensation would be paid. … The other letter stated that Plaintiff's injury had not resulted in permanent disability, and indicated that temporary compensation and active medical treatment terminated on May 24, 2016, because ‘claimant was discharged,’” documents state.

On July 22, 2016, Walmart terminated Ms. Whitmire “only citing her positive drug test as the reason for her termination,” according to records.

In 2017, she dual-filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Arizona Attorney General's Office, Civil Rights Division. After receiving her Notice of Right to Sue from the Arizona Attorney General's Office, she filed a lawsuit alleging that she was wrongfully terminated and/or discriminated against in violation of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act and the state’s civil rights laws.

The injury was “the first time that Plaintiff informed anyone at Walmart that she had a medical marijuana card” and she “also never informed anyone at Walmart that she had a disability,” records state.

Walmart filed a series of motions, including a summary judgment, which on Thursday was granted in part — Ms. Whitmire failed to prove discrimination — and denied in part over the state’s medical marijuana statute.

The ruling highlights “… as Plaintiff points out, terminating a registered qualifying patient who tests positive for marijuana ‘regardless of whether the employee possesses a medical marijuana card and regardless of the level of marijuana detected’ constitutes a ‘complete and bright line disregard for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act's antidiscrimination provisions[.]’”

“Indeed, (parts of the) AMMA protects qualifying registered patients, like Plaintiff, who merely test positive for marijuana metabolites. Without any evidence that Plaintiff "used, possessed or was impaired by marijuana" at work on (the day of her accident) it is clear that Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff in violation of …the AMMA by suspending and then terminating Plaintiff solely based on her positive drug screen,” the ruling continued.

Officials with Walmart could not immediately be reached for comment.







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