Plaintiff Argues Disability, Not Positive Drug Test, was Real Reason for Termination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) case against a Michigan assisted living facility that claims it fired an epileptic employee for marijuana use may proceed, a court ruled last week. EEOC v. Pines of Clarkston (E.D. Mich. 2015).

Jamie Holden, a licensed practical nurse, applied for an administrator job with The Pines of Clarkston in July 2011. Holden underwent a pre-employment drug screen the day after she was hired and tested positive for marijuana. She disclosed that she used marijuana for epilepsy to the facility’s owner, Randy Legault. The next day, Holden met with Legault and another manager to discuss her employment. The two managers questioned her about her epilepsy and told her as the interview concluded that they believed she would be unable to perform the job.

Holden sued, alleging the company terminated her because of her epilepsy. The company argued that she was terminated for her off-duty use of marijuana. However, the managers’ own interview notes indicate that they had “grilled her about her epilepsy and told her that … the position would be too stressful for her based on her medical condition.” Citing a Ninth Circuit case, the court said:

“We do not hold … that medical marijuana users are not protected by the ADA in any circumstance … We hold instead that the ADA does not protect medical marijuana users who claim to face discrimination on the basis of their marijuana use.”

The court concluded there was ample evidence to believe Holden was terminated for her epilepsy and not her off duty marijuana use, and the case was permitted to proceed to trial.

While the employer in this case acted egregiously, it highlights the possibility that an employee who tests positive for drugs can gain traction with the EEOC unless employers have a uniform drug policy that is consistently enforced. MSEC has resources to assist with drug policy development.