Roe v. TeleTech: Washington Supreme Court Snuffs Out Employee's Claim of Retaliatory Discharge for Medical Marijuana Use

by Karin Jones

The wrongful discharge claims of a medical marijuana user went up in smoke when the Washington Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Management (Colorado) LLC, 171 Wn.2d 736, 257 P.3d 586 (2011) [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com subscribers] that Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act did not require her former employer to disregard its zero tolerance drug policy.

Excerpt:

In a hotly-contested case garnering statewide attention, the Washington Supreme Court confirmed that Washington's Medical Use of Marijuana Act did not obligate an employer to accommodate an employee's use of medical marijuana, even when the employee in a non-safety-sensitive position used medical marijuana exclusively off-site [Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Management (Colorado) LLC, 171 Wn.2d 736, 257 P.3d 586 (2011)].

Medical Use of Marijuana Act. In 1998, Washington voters passed Initiative 692, which became the Medical Use of Marijuana Act ("MUMA") [RCW Ch. 69.51A]. The primary purpose of MUMA is to provide an affirmative defense against state criminal prosecution for individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes and medical providers who recommend such use [see RCW 69.51A.040]. The version of MUMA in effect at all times relevant to the Roe v. TeleTech case mentioned employment in the following sole provision: "Nothing in this chapter requires any accommodation of any medical marijuana use in any place of employment" [RCW 69.51A.060(4) (1999)].

Factual Background in Roe v. TeleTech. The plaintiff in Roe v. TeleTech used marijuana more than four times a day to treat severe migraine headaches. In June 2006, Roe sought and received a physician's authorization for her daily cannabis use. Four months later, TeleTech Customer Care Management (Colorado) LLC ("TeleTech") conditionally offered Roe a position as a customer care service representative at its Bremerton, Washington facility, where TeleTech provides telemarketing and telesales services. Roe began training in her new position. However, TeleTech's job offer was contingent on Roe passing a drug screening. Significantly, TeleTech had a zero-tolerance drug policy, rendering any individual who failed the initial drug screening ineligible for continued employment.

At the time she took the drug test, Roe informed TeleTech of her medical marijuana use pursuant to a physician's authorization. Roe indicated that her use of marijuana occurred exclusively in her home, although she acknowledged that the drug remained in her system. Not surprisingly, Roe's drug screening results were positive for THC, a psychoactive component of marijuana. In accordance with its zero-tolerance drug policy, Teletech promptly terminated Roe's employment.

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Karin Jones practices labor and employment law at Stoel Rives LLP in Seattle, representing management before the state and federal courts and administrative agencies. In addition to her litigation practice, Ms. Jones advises employers on compliance issues. Prior to joining Stoel Rives, Ms. Jones clerked at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and gained experience practicing employment law in both government and private practice in Idaho.

Stoel Rives LLP is a U.S. law firm with a full suite of transactional and litigation solutions for U.S. and international clients. Established in 1907, the firm has nearly 400 attorneys operating out of 11 offices in seven states. Representative clients include financial institutions, public and private utilities, energy and renewable energy companies, developers, manufacturers, retailers, hospitals, universities, agribusinesses, software companies, food and beverage companies, charitable foundations, telecommunications and forestry companies, among others. Stoel Rives represents businesses at all stages of growth, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.