Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Case of Walmart v.Joseph Casias

Casias is a father of two who from 2004 to 2008 had risen through the ranks of Walmart employees to be honored with the title of “Associate of the Year,” an honor that goes to only half a percent of all employees. Not all is well, as Casias later had a workplace accident. Twisting his knee at work, the Walmart policy was such that a drug test was dictated. Casias was found to have the chemical residue of marijuana in his system. By policy, Casias lost his job. The story does not end there. Casias was also a victim of inoperable brain cancer. The marijuana is his system had been prescribed to him by his oncologist. Walmart stood by its policy and did not accept the medical card issued by the state he was living in as an acceptable excuse (p. 111-2).  The story does not end there, however. Casias was not just a brain cancer victim, he was a continued survivor. According to the ACLU, which is suing Walmart on behalf of Caisis, the pain from the cancer had been debilitating to the point where Casias was on heavy opioids, which both did nothing for his pain and left him nauseous. The marijuana prescription which was legal under state law and given under the direction of his oncologist, was against policy where opioids were not (Casias v. Wal-Mart).
The question then follows about who is correct. Should Walmart disregard its policy and give Casias his job back because he is an exceptional employee and who was following the law of his state? Or should Walmart instead be constant in its policy so that the termination is final - after all, marijuana is illegal under federal law? Or is this not an issue of legality at all, and Casias should not be allowed to work for Walmart because of the danger posed to his fellow workers and customers?
The easiest issue to look at the first instance. In spite of legal restrictions, is Joseph Casias a threat to anyone he works with? He is most likely not. According to his testimony, he never used marijuana on the job or came into work under the influence of the drug (Casias v. Wal-Mart). What happened was that Casias tested positive for metabolites of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This is the same as having glucose in your body after you have eaten cake. It is not cake in your system anymore, but just what is hanging around when it is done having that delicious tummy-filling effect. The problem is that even anti-drug scare sites hosted by the government note that these stay in your system for up to weeks after exposure (Marijuana: Facts for Teens).  So if the question is was Casias intoxicated at work, its impossible to answer except through observation. The fact that alcohol can be detected to such mathematically precise numbers gives the public a misconception of how inebriation can be measured. The fact is that two different people can have highly varied levels of impairment at the same blood concentration: it is why field sobriety tests exist. Did Casias appear intoxicated? There is no positive evidence. The sole mark against him was that chemical that showed up in his blood. And there’s no telling when that came into the system.
Having determined that Casias was not a threat to anyone in his direct area, the question becomes about the applicability of the proper federal law and the company’s policies as they pertain to the pertinent laws. Here the evidence is not as clear. On one hand, marijuana is still considered a scedule one narcotic, meaning that is has no medicinal value. The overall trend in the country is towards acceptance, where several states have started allowing medicinal use such as Casias was doing under the direction of his physician. Other states are going so far as to legalize the plant for recreational purposes. The Federal government has had a varied take on this progression. The Obama administration said that it would prioritize such enforcement actions, but the nascent industry still has had the DEA pressure it in various ways. The state of legalization is in flux. The states have led on this issue with Washington falling far behind. At the Federal level they are still under administrators who came of age during the “War on Drugs” era that saw a disproportionate number of minorities be locked away for significant fractions of their lives based on nonviolent drug offenses. If economically it is best to ignore sunk costs, it is almost impossible to do it in a political or policy context. The march of marijuana legalization is such that even recently the federal government had to put out a memo that marijuana is still illegal to use or possess (Memo to Federal Workers). This shows a consciousness of the reality. The social norms are changing, The problem is that there are people who will suffer while the wheels of history make their turn -- people like Joseph Casias.
Casias broke federal law by using and possessing marijuana. That fact is not under debate. This is mitigated by the fact that he was in compliance with the relevant state rules. The autodidactic constitutional scholar can go to the Archives and find the Constitution. In it are enumerated powers saying what a congress can do, and then a bit of the Bill of Rights saying that what the federal government cannot do is given to the states (The Constitution of the United States). This simplistic reading has been debated back and forth for the duration of the republic and complicated.  At issue is a different question, however, than federalism versus states rights. Ultimately, Walmart kept to a policy that is a derivative of the original anti-drug scare mongering, There is a zero tolerance policy for marijuana under their policy. Having a hard policy at a corporate level makes sense because it protects you from the potential of favoritism. What it  also does is erase the subjectivity that would be necessary in a case like this. Casias was demonstrably a quality employee, and as such honored by the company for his service. If he was under care with the narcotic and that would have been fine under policy is unclear. The policy is standard, as has been seen with the federal government’s application of the same policy. The difference is that Walmart is not a governmental body, nor do they exist to enforce the rules of the government. The policy of mandatory drug testing after an accident is one that is created so that they can minimize their own culpability if a worker injures themselves at work. If the worker can be shown to have broken the law, the company will not have to pay for the injury. It is a defensive and reactive stance. Does it make sense as a company under a capitalistic, market system? From Walmart’s perspective, the answer is yes.
But is it right? Ultimately the answer to that circles back to the first part of the discussion. Caisis did not appear to be inebriated and it was only after the fact that it came out that he was a patient under the care of a doctor who had prescribed medical marijuana to treat his cancer. Other drugs would have been acceptable, but Caisis became a test case for states moving into the gray area that the federal government has been uncertain on. This is where a human element would have been crucial. Someone from the public relations department from Walmart had to have seen this and been very frustrated, The polls may have looked slightly different then, but the people who are accepting of marijuana use, especially for medical purposes, are Walmart’s customers. A sizeable majority of Americans are in favor of legalization, according to respected polling outfits like Gallup (Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana).  Being dogmatic on policies such as those that affected Caisis is alienating to a large number of Americans, and Walmart does not need any more negative marks against it in the public eye. Therefore, Walmart should reinstate Caisis not just since it is utilizing talent in the right way, but their reason for dismissal is fading fast into the past. Even someone with a less sympathetic back-story should be able to use their medicine on their own time as long as they do not create a risk for those around them while they do their work.

ACLU. (2015). Casias V. Walmart. The American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved From  https://www.aclu.org/cases/casias-v-wal-mart
Kinicki, A., & Fugate, M. (2012). Organizational Behavior: Key Concepts, Skills, and Best Practices (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin
Madison, J. et al. (1787). The Constitution of the United States. The National Archives. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html
NIH. (2015). Want to Know More?: Some FAQs About Marijuana. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-facts-teens/want-to-know-more-some-faqs-about-marijuana
Rein, L. (2015, May 27). Memo to Federal Workers, Using Marijuana Could Cost You Your Job. The Washington Post. Retrieved fromhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/memo-to-federal-workers-using-marijuana-could-cost-you-your-job/2015/05/27/285b084e-04a9-11e5-8bda-c7b4e9a8f7ac_story.html
Swift, A. (2013). For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/165539/first-time-americans-favor-legalizing-marijuana.aspx