Esther Shapiro, a former nurse at Verde Valley Community Hospice in Arizona, was fired because she is a medical marijuana user. Her attorney wanted Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael McVey to award her damages. This case could become the first to test the limits on employers under the state’s year-old medical marijuana law. The facility that she was fired from has not returned any calls for comments.
Arizona is among several states that have approved laws allowing those with a doctor’s recommendation to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes, but the Arizona law contains something not in statutes elsewhere: an anti-discrimination provision. It says that an employer may not make decisions on hiring, firing or discipline based on the person’s status as a registered marijuana user. The law even says that a positive drug test for marijuana from someone who is a registered user cannot be used against that employee unless the person either used, possessed or was impaired at the worksite.
The lawsuit claims that Shapiro was hired in July as a part-time nurse at its facility. A month later it became a full-time position. During the orientation, Shapiro said she was informed by her supervisor that she would be required to submit to a pre-employment drug test. Shapiro, in turn, says she informed the supervisor as a registered medical marijuana card holder but did submit to the test.
The following day, according to Shapiro, the supervisor told her that the hospice’s insurance carrier considered her to be too much of a liability because of her status as a medical marijuana card holder, firing her that day.
Her attorneys said they tried in September to explain that the firing violated the state’s medical marijuana law. That, they said, went nowhere.
But 10 days later – and a full month after her firing, William Hayes, one of the facility’s owners, submitted a complaint to the Arizona State Board of Nursing that an unspecified staffer had smelled marijuana on Shapiro, and that was the reason for the drug test. Her lawyers deny she was ever under the influence of the drug while on hospice premises or during working hours.
Shapiro’s attorneys,David Weissman, acknowledged in the lawsuit that the medical marijuana law does allow a company to fire a medical marijuana user if “failure to do so would cause an employer to lose monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations.” But Weissman said the hospice had no such evidence when they fired Shapiro.
Shapiro is also suing Hayes for defamation for “intentionally and knowingly making false statements” about her to the nursing board and possibly to others.