Medical Marijuana not within the Protection of the ADA: the Federal Controlled Substance Act Prevails

The Ninth Circuit has held that use by disabled Californians of marijuana for medically supervised pain relief under state law was prohibited by federal law and thus came within the illegal-drug exclusion of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Plaintiffs used marijuana to treat their pain under the supervision of their physicians; their medical use of marijuana was allowed under state law, but prohibited by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The cities in which plaintiffs lived had taken steps to close marijuana dispensing facilities that operated within their boundaries, one by ordinance and the other by public nuisance action. Plaintiffs were concerned about the possible shut-down of the collectives on which they relied for marijuana.

Plaintiffs sued the cities, alleging that their actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since 42 U.S.C. §12132 prohibits discrimination in the provision of public services to any “qualified individual with a disability.”  Plaintiffs also alleged that conventional medical services, drugs, and medications had not alleviated the pain caused by her impairment and that she had thus obtained a physician’s recommendation to use marijuana to treat her pain.

The court found that James medical marijuana use necessarily was not protected by the ADA because the ADA defines “illegal drug use” by reference to federal rather than state law and the former does not authorize James’ medical marijuana use.

The cities correctly interpreted the language of §12210(d)(1) – which excepts from the illegal-drug exclusion the use of a drug taken under supervision by a licensed health care professional or other uses authorized by the CSA or other federal law – under which James’ state-authorized medical marijuana use was not excepted because it was not authorized by the CSA or another provision of federal law, although the language of the provision lacked plain meaning and its legislative history was inconclusive.

Further, the statutory context revealed the intent of Congress to define “illegal use of drugs” by reference to federal rather than state law.  The CSA is explicitly mentioned twice in §12210(d)(1) and §12210(d)(2) provides that the term “drug” means a controlled substance as defined in the CSA.

As to the legislative history, the ADA was passed in 1990 and there was no reason for Congress to have anticipated later changes in state law – such as California’s 1996 statute – that facilitated professional supervision of drug use that federal law did not permit.  In any event, there was a long-standing, strong federal policy against the use of medical marijuana outside the limits of federal law itself.


The court found nothing in the legislative history to suggest that Congress intended to extend ADA protection to state-authorized but federally prohibited uses of marijuana that fell outside a comprehensive federal regulatory regime.  Neither did anything in the ADA or its history suggest that Congress sought to exclude from the definition of illegal drug use such drug use as was sanctioned by state law but unauthorized by federal law.

James v. Costa Mesa


After More Than Three Years: Brinker is Here

Employers got most of what they wanted in the long-awaited Brinker wage-and-hour ruling issued Thursday, April 12 by the California Supreme Court.  But workers won some victories, too, and the court appeared to stick up for class actions more broadly, in contrast to some recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The court ruled that employers need only permit meal breaks for employees — not ensure that they actually get taken.  Employers are therefore not require to police or babysit their employees.

The court further rejected worker arguments that meal breaks must come no more than five hours apart. That piece of the ruling was surprising, given that employers had been so worried about the court's signals during oral argument that they asked, and were permitted, to file supplemental amicus curiae briefing on whether a tighter rule would apply prospectively only.


School District May Be Liable For Harassment By Teacher

In C.A. v. Hart Union High School District, the California Supreme Court held that a public school district could be held vicariously liable for the negligence of administrators or supervisors in hiring, supervising and retaining a school employee who sexually harasses and abuses a student.


Some Recent Cases of Note

1. California's overtime laws extend to nonresident employees performing work in the state for California-based employers. Sullivan v. Oracle, 11 C.D.O.S. 8243, and Sullivan v. Oracle, 11 C.D.O.S. 14910.


2. Fixed payments per item sold can constitute "commissions" for purposes of the commissioned employee exemption. Areso v. CarMax, 11 C.D.O.S. 6050 (2011).


3. Employers may terminate or discipline employees who make false claims of sexual harassment. Joaquin v. City of Los Angeles, 12 C.D.O.S. 950.


4. Sabbatical leave may be considered vacation pay under California law, thereby entitling employees to a payout of unused sabbatical time upon termination. Paton v. Advanced Micro Devices, 11 C.D.O.S. 9945.


5. The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits retaliation against workers who make oral complaints regarding violations of the act. Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, 11 C.D.O.S. 3419.


6. Administrative exemption is not limited to employees who advise management at the policymaking level. Harris v. Superior Court, 12 C.D.O.S. 129.


7. Class action waiver in employment arbitration agreement is unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act. D.R. Horton, 357 NLRB 184 (Jan. 3, 2012).


8. Employee not guaranteed a right to reinstatement under CFRA when leave extends beyond 12 weeks. Rogers v. County of Los Angeles, 11 C.D.O.S. 10423.


9. An employee is not entitled to receive two hours of "reporting time pay" for short meetings held on an employee's day off if the meeting is scheduled in advance and lasts at least half of the time scheduled. Aleman v. AirTouch Cellular, 11 C.D.O.S. 15258.


10. Employer is liable for discrimination when nonbiased decision maker is influenced by others harboring discriminatory intent. Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 131 S.Ct. 1186 (2011)


Peace Officer's Name Subject to Disclosure

In Long Beach Police Officers Association v. City of Long Beach, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal upheld a trial court and found that the Association did not meet its burden to show that the officer names were exempt from disclosure under the CPRA. As the trial court found, the names were not exempt as part of the officers’ personnel records. Nowhere in either the language of Penal Code §§832.7 and 832.8 or the statutes’ legislative history was there any indication that these provisions were designed to protect the confidentiality of officer names when those names are untethered to one of the specified components of the officer’s personnel file, such as personal data, promotions, disciplinary actions or complaints. It was not the Legislature’s intent, in enacting these provisions, to make confidential the basic fact of an officer’s employment.

Further, disclosure of the officers’ name would not constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” under Gov. Code §6254(c). The court agreed with the trial court that an officer’s privacy interest in his or her name is not significant enough to preclude disclosure, particularly when balanced against the public interest in police conduct. Although an officer might be able to demonstrate that privacy interests predominate—by showing, for example, a particularized threat to his or her safety—the evidence presented in this case of speculative and generalized threats was not strong enough to outweigh the public interest in disclosure.