South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Prescription for Marijuana Does Not Create Legal Excuse to Avoid Company Drug Policy
Description Court overturned the decision of a labor arbitrator who held that a company had to reinstate an employee who was fired for testing positive for marijuana. Marijuana use, whether by prescription or not, violated the collective bargaining agreement, which is to be followed.
Topic Labor Law
Key Words Drug Use; Marijuana Prescription; Arbitration
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Thomas worked as a forklift operator for Freightliner. When he was involved in an accident, the company ordered he be given a drug test. The test showed a high degree of THC concentration, evidence of marijuana use. Thomas admitted using marijuana regularly in the evening, not during the day, to alleviate pain from bad knees. He had a prescription for medical marijuana, as allowed under Oregon law. Freightliner fired Thomas for violating the company's drug policy. Thomas filed a grievance and the matter went to arbitration. The arbitrator ordered Thomas reinstated because he had the marijuana legally from a prescription and was not under the influence while working. Freightliner appealed to federal court to have the arbitrator's decision vacated.

Employer's motion granted. An arbitrator must show a manifest disregard for the law for the award to be overturned. The plain language of the collective bargaining agreement established the drug policy, which Freightliner enforced. The THC level in Thomas was 70 times the limit allowed, so he was legally under the influence. The fact that he obtained the drug under Oregon's Medical Marijuana Act does not affect the outcome. The bargaining agreement could have taken that into account. An arbitrator may not ignore the collective bargaining agreement and dispense "his own brand of industrial justice."

Citation Freightliner, LLC v. Teamsters Local 305, --- F.Supp.2d --- (2004 WL 2075028, D. Ore., 2004)

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