Court looking into jobless aid for fired pot users

LANSING (AP) -- Michigan's leading business group is urging the state appeals court to rule out jobless benefits for people who are fired for using medical marijuana.

The appeals court has cases pending involving people who sought benefits after being dismissed. Judges in Kent and Ingham counties have ruled in favor of the workers, while the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has filed a friend-of-the-court brief seeking to uphold the right of employers to fire employees for marijuana.

"The Michigan Chamber is seeking a reversal of the lower court's decision because it puts employers in a no-win situation," group chief executive Rich Studley said in a statement. "If the circuit court's ruling is allowed to stand, employers will be forced to either ignore known drug use and jeopardize workplace safety or discharge those employees and pay their unemployment benefits and, subsequently, higher unemployment taxes."

The appeals court hasn't set a date for arguments. The cases involve a forklift driver in Grand Rapids and a hospital employee in Charlotte. The plaintiffs said they shouldn't be denied benefits after losing their jobs for using marijuana legally.

In Ingham County, Jenine Kemp was fired from her job as a CT scan technician at Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital after a drug test in 2011 revealed marijuana. Kemp, who has a state-issued medical marijuana card, said she uses marijuana in food outside work hours to relieve chronic pain from lupus, which attacks joints, and other ailments.

"She never showed any signs of intoxication or being under the influence. There was no indication she was using marijuana on the job," her attorney, Eric Misterovich, has said. "The only complaints came when she talked about medical marijuana. That's what prompted the drug test."

In Kent County, Rick Braska worked for Challenge Manufacturing Co. His use of marijuana was detected during a routine test while he was being checked for an ankle injury in 2010. He was registered to use marijuana for back problems, but his bosses said the drug violated company policy and he was fired.

"This precedent-setting case is critically important to job providers across Michigan and we will continue to stand up for them by championing the position that employers' must retain the right to enforce zero-tolerance drug policies," said the chamber's chief lawyer, Jim Holcomb.

Published: Tue, Mar 18, 2014