Sometimes the Court Gets It Wrong

January 24, 2008 | Joe Elford
It was a very cold day today in the Bay Area. It was cold in San Francisco and, unusually, colder still in Oakland. Far colder was the California Supreme Court's decision in Ross v. Ragingwire, which limits the Compassionate Use Act to far less than a shell of its promise of "ensur[ing] that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician. . . ." And this is not even to mention the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which, though hardly mentioned by the Supreme Court, was the basis for our position. While the politics involved here, as well as the uninformed opinion of those that think this was case was governed by federal law, make this decision unsurprising to many, I can state with confidence, even in defeat, that our legal position was solid and we should have won. Rather than take my word for it, I will simply direct everyone to the dissenting opinion. Put simply, in the words of Justice Kennard, "The majority’s holding disrespects the will of California’s voters who, when they enacted the Compassionate Use Act, surely never intended that persons who availed themselves of its provisions would thereby disqualify themselves from employment." There is no federal law that required the employer to drug test under the facts of this case, much less to fire Ross for testing positive for marijuana. The only relevance of federal law to the facts of this case is to sell Ragingwire's legally disingenuous position to the press and public. Unless there is a conflict between state and federal law, and here there is none, federal law cannot defeat state law requirements, which require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. Absent such conflict the Court was obliged to apply state law (the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Compassionate Use Act), which requires Ragingwire to provide a reasonable accommodation (not fire him for using the substance, legal under California law, to treat his disability). Unfortunately, as an an attorney who must continue to litigate cases before this Court, there are limitations on what I can say. Suffice it to say, we would not lose this case before all judges in California (or elsewhere), but only before these five of seven judges who were appointed to sit on this Court. Judges make all the difference, and in this case, they made for a cold, cold day.
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