Former Kohl’s Employee Not to Be Discriminated Against for Medical Marijuana Use

A former Kohl’s employee, Justin Shepherd, was fired for his use of medical marijuana after he was injured on the job and a drug test was conducted. A federal court judge in California determined that this employee may move forward with his lawsuit against Kohl’s, his former employer. Shepherd worked at Kohl’s Department Store for over five years before he was diagnosed with acute and chronic anxiety and given a recommendation for medical marijuana use. He did not inform his employer of his use of medical marijuana, but the company did update their policies to include rhetoric protecting California employees from medical marijuana use discrimination.

When Shepherd’s job injury led to a drug test that revealed his use of marijuana, he was terminated. When he sued for the alleged breach of contract, covenant of good faith, fair dealing and defamation, the court denied Kohl’s motion for summary judgment, but placed a few claims under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. This is a noteworthy case as there is still heavy discussion about the contradictions between federal law that still identifies marijuana as an illegal substance and state laws that permit marijuana use for medical and sometimes recreational use (depending on the state).

Shepherd worked as a material handler at Kohl’s in June 2006. When he was hired, he signed an agreement including a clause stating he was an at-will employee. By 2011 Shepherd had been promoted. He had also been diagnosed with acute, chronic anxiety with his doctor recommending medical marijuana use. Shepherd did not disclose his condition or treatment to Kohl’s. In 2012, the company policies were updated to include exceptions to its drug testing and substance abuse policies protecting California (and other applicable states) employees from discrimination for medical marijuana use in regards to hiring, firing, and other employment matters. Shepherd claims he took note of these policy changes and was depending on them when he decided to continue his anxiety treatment and stay at Kohl’s rather than look for new employment elsewhere.

In 2014, Shepherd was injured on the job. He went to a healthcare provider contracted with the company where a drug test revealed trace amounts of marijuana metabolites. Shepherd then showed his manager his medical marijuana recommendation and advised them that he only used it when off duty, and that the metabolites can stay in the system for quite a while. Shepherd was terminated for his “drug use.” He was told that he should have chosen to address his anxiety issue with a different medication. He filed suit quickly thereafter.

If you have questions about medical marijuana policies in your workplace or about what constitutes wrongful termination, please get in touch with the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.