The Michigan Court of Appeals recently interpreted state laws to determine whether an employee who possesses a medical marijuana card and is discharged after failing a drug test may be denied unemployment benefits.
The court answered no and we will examine that further, below. First, we want to highlight the excellent work that Schwartz Law Firm attorney Mary A. Mahoney did on behalf of Stephen Kudzia, one of the three employees who was unfairly denied unemployment benefits.
Mahoney's client ultimately enjoyed some justice after a long nightmare in which he lost his job due to his medical use of marijuana. Kudzia was registered for medical marijuana use under Michigan law and tested positive for it during a random workplace drug test.
Although Kudzia was not intoxicated during his work hours and did not possess marijuana in the workplace, he was terminated for testing positive for marijuana because of a cream he applied to his injured knees when he was not at work. His nightmare continued when the Unemployment Insurance Agency sought restitution for benefits he had already received; his denial was then affirmed by the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission.
Kudzia's case was consolidated with the cases of two other workers in similar situations. The Michigan Court of Appeals examined several state statutes, including the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), before concluding that the three employees were entitled to unemployment compensation benefits.
In its decision, the court stated, in part:
"Denial of unemployment benefits constitutes a 'penalty' under the MMMA imposed upon claimants for their medical use of marijuana."
The decision does not reverse the employees' terminations, nor does it say that employers cannot fire workers who lawfully use marijuana outside of the workplace.
Undoubtedly, employment issues concerning use of medical marijuana will continue to be contested in Michigan courts. The outcome of these issues may depend on the well-formed arguments of lawyers like Mary Mahoney.