Braska v. Challenge Mfg. Co. – 14.20

Braska v. Challenge Mfg. Co.
Kemp v. Hayes Green Memorial Hospital
Kudzia v. Avasi Services

Digest no. 14.20

Section 29(1)(m)

Cite as: Braska v Challenge Mfg Co, Unpublished Opinion of the Court of Appeals of Michigan, Issued October 23, 2014
(Docket Nos. 313932, 315441, 318344).

Appeal Pending: No. On November 4, 2015, Michigan Supreme Court denied the Agency’s Application for Leave to Appeal.
Claimants: Rick Braska, Jenine Kemp, Stephen Kudzia (3 separate claimants consolidated on appeal)
Employer: Challenge Manufacturing Company, Hayes Green Memorial Hospital, Avasi Services
Docket nos. 313932, 315441, 318344
Date of decision: October 23, 2014

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Holding: Claimants tested positive for marijuana and would ordinarily be disqualified for unemployment benefits under section 29(1)(m); however, because there was no evidence to suggest that the positive drug tests were caused by anything other than claimants’ use of medical marijuana in accordance with the terms of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act (MMMA), the denial of the benefits constituted an improper penalty for the medical use of marijuana under MCL 333.26424(a).

Facts: The claimants each possessed medical marijuana cards. Each of them failed an employee drug test and was subsequently discharged even though there was no evidence of impairment at work.

Braska applied for and received benefits following his termination. The ALJ upheld the UIA’s determination. The MCAC reversed. The circuit court reversed hold that the MCAC’s decision that Braska was disqualified from receiving benefits was not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence.

After termination, Kemp applied and received benefits. The ALJ affirmed. The MCAC reversed. The circuit court reversed the MCAC’s decision, holding “an employee, who uses medical marijuana but is not intoxicated at work, is not disqualified from receiving benefits under § 29(1)(m).”

Kudzia applied for and received benefits after termination. The ALJ held that Kudzia was disqualified from receiving benefits under § 29(1)(b). Kudzia appealed, and the MCAC affirmed the ALJ’s decision on different grounds. The circuit court reverserd, holding “to the extent that provisions of the MMMA and the MESA conflicted, the MMMA controlled” and that “although the MMMA does not impose restrictions on private employers, the MMMA applied to state action and the MCAC’s decision to deny Kudzia benefits was an action by the state.”

Decision: Following various procedural outcomes, The MCAC found claimants disqualified for benefits under § 29(1)(m). The respective circuit courts reversed. The Court of Appeals of Michigan consolidated the cases, and affirmed the decisions of the circuit courts.

Rationale: Claimants were nevertheless entitled to unemployment benefits pursuant to the MMMA. MCL 333.26424(a) provides broad immunity. It prohibits the imposition of certain consequences, including any penalty, upon individuals who use medical marijuana in accordance with the MMMA. Denial of unemployment benefits under § 29(1)(m) constitutes a “penalty” under the MMMA that was imposed upon claimants for their medical use of marijuana. Because the MMMA preempts the MESA, the MCAC erred in denying claimants unemployment benefits.

Digest author: James C. Robinson
Digest updated: 12/15

Bixler v. Concentra Health Services, UIA – 12.142

Bixler v. Concentra Health Services, UIA
Digest No. 12.142

Sections 421.29(1)(m) and 421.29(1)(b)

Cite as: Bixler v Concentra Health Services, Inc, unpublished opinion of the Wayne Circuit Court, issued January 24, 2012 (Docket No. 11-009212-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Barbara Bixler
Employer: Concentra Health Services, Inc.
Docket no.: 11-009212-AE
Date of decision: January 24, 2012

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HOLDING: The burden of proof on the employer to prove the the Claimant ineligible under 29(1) prevents the ALJ from “questioning the [Claimant] into proving the case against her, effectively forcing her to carry the burden of proof against herself.” Although the ALJ has “a duty to decide benefits regardless of the action or inaction of the employer”, and may independently question witnesses, such questioning must not be “used as a tool to circumvent the requirement that the employer carry the burden of proof”.

FACTS: Claimant smoked a small amount of marijuana for the first time in 35 years. One and a half days later, she was pulled for a random drug screening at her job as a receptionist for Concentra. She failed the drug test and was subsequently terminated. Concentra fired her over the phone and she stated at trial that the reason given was the positive drug test. She then received 25 of 26 available unemployment insurance payments before the UIA sued to declare her ineligible and for restitution totaling $7,025. Concentra failed to appear at the hearing. At the ALJ level, the employer’s side offered no evidence of the positive drug test. During questioning, however, after objections, Claimant answered that she remembered seeing the positive test, and that she assumed, logically, that it was caused by her drug use two days prior. Relying on this evidence, the ALJ found her ineligible, but ruled that UIA was not entitled to restitution because it had been notified of her potential ineligibility five months before it ceased to pay her benefits. On appeal, the Board of Review upheld Claimant’s ineligibility but reversed on the restitution because the agency’s continuance of payments was due to their high volume at that time and not due to an administrative error. Claimant appealed to the Circuit Court of Wayne County.

DECISION: The Board of Review decision is reversed and Claimant is entitled to unemployment insurance benefits.

RATIONALE: The burden of proof on the employer to demonstrate a 29(1) defense cannot be circumvented by the special rule allowing ALJs to question witnesses and to make eligibility determinations in the absence of employer intervention. Thus the burden of proof rule trumps the special ALJ questioning rule. The alternative outcome would have been that the rule allowing ALJs to independently question Claimants overrides the burden of proof rule. Under this hierarchy of rules, however, “the employer would never have to appear in a drug test case”. The temptation to make the witness admit to her drug use may be motivated by a legitimate concern for the public interest, since the people have decided, via the legislature that those fired for drug use are ineligible for benefits. However, the same public also decided that the burden of demonstrating 29(1) defenses falls on the employer.

The court also noted that the burden shifting is especially “troublesome when it comes to ascertaining whether the test was administered in discriminatory manner”. Since the employer made no appearance, and thus gave no account as to how the test was administered, the Claimant had no means to challenge the test as discriminatory. Note that the test being non-discriminatory is a condition of the employer’s 29(1)(m) defense, not a counter attack available to claimants. Thus a drug tests non-discriminatory status is subject to the employer’s burden of proof. The ALJ may have assumed that, because we know that the Claimant in this case had, in fact, used drugs, the test couldn’t have been discriminatory, because it was accurate. Since part of the administration of drug tests is the selection of employees to take the test, accuracy of the result is not sufficient to show that the test was not administered discriminatorily. Again, without the employer offering some account of the test’s administration, the Claimant had no real opportunity to challenge it on those grounds. As the court stated “She could not cross examine an empty chair.”

Digest Author: James Fahringer, Michigan Law, Class of 2018
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016

Ciaravino v. Ford Motor Co. – 14.16

Ciaravino v. Ford Motor Co.
Digest No. 14.16

Section 421.29(1)(m)

Cite as: Ciaravino v Ford Motor Co, unpublished opinion of the Macomb County Circuit Court, issued December 19, 2007 (Docket No. 2007-2858-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Robert Ciaravino
Employer: Ford Motor Company
Docket no.: 189730H
Date of decision: December 19, 2007

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Holding: The Board’s decision that Ciaravino should be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits was not contrary to law and was supported by substantial evidence. Ford’s evidence was sufficient to show that Ciaravino’s positive drug test for marijuana, a controlled substance, disqualified him from receiving benefits.

Facts: Robert Ciaravino worked as an employee for Ford Motor Company from October 1994 until October 7, 2005. After he tested positive for marijuana during a random urinalysis, he was discharged. Ciaravino’s specimen was taken by Beverley Tukis, a Ford full-time nurse, and the positive drug results were received by Sally Gruca, another Ford full-time nurse.

Decision: The circuit court affirmed the Board of Review’s decision, which found the claimant to be disqualified from receiving benefits for misconduct under Section 29(1)(m) of the MES Act.

Rationale: Though Ciaravino denied using marijuana and said he had been taking Vicodin for a knee injury, there was no evidence that Vicodin would produce a false positive for marijuana or that the test was erroneous. Ciaravino had also signed a Reinstatement Waiver on April 4, 2005 in which he agreed to submit to random drug and alcohol testing as a condition of employment at Ford. The discharge of an individual due to ingestion of marijuana, which is considered a “controlled substance” pursuant to MCL 333.7104, 7201 and 7212, disqualifies the individual from receiving benefits. Ford also provided sufficient evidence to establish an adequate chain of custody from which a positive specimen result could be inferred.

Digest Author: Alisa Hand, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 3/1/2016

Fowler v Marubeni Metal Blanking – 14.17

Fowler v Marubeni Metal Blanking
Digest No. 14.17

Section 421.29(1)(m)

Cite as: Fowler v Marubeni Metal Blanking, unpublished opinion of the Shiawassee County Circuit Court, issued December 15, 2006 (Docket No. 06-4352-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: David L. Fowler
Employer: Marubeni Metal Blanking
Date of decision: December 15, 2006

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HOLDING: A claimant cannot be disqualified from receiving benefits for a discharge resulting from the claimant’s refusal to submit to a drug test where the drug test was not administered in an impartial and objective manner.

FACTS: The employer decided to drug test the entire workforce due to a number of unusual occurrences, and because the employer was informed employees were using prescription drugs prescribed to other persons. The employees, including Claimant, were told that if they had a valid prescription and tested positive for that drug they would be okay.

When informed of the employer’s intent to test all employees, Claimant asked to speak with the plant manager. Claimant disclosed that he had taken Vicodin over the weekend from an earlier prescription and didn’t know if the prescription was “valid”. He asked to use his phone because he wanted to call his doctor and see if the prescription was “valid”. His request was denied because the employer was concerned that he might give the later shifts advance notice of the drug testing. No one from the employer was able to clarify what constituted a “valid” prescription. Claimant refused to take the test and was fired.

An ALJ found that Claimant was not disqualified for benefits under Section 29(1)(m)(ii) of the Act. The Board of Review reversed.   

DECISION: The Board of Review’s decision is reversed. Claimant is not disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits under Section 29(1)(m)(ii) of the Act.

RATIONALE: For a claimant to be disqualified under Section 29(1)(m)(ii), he must refuse “to submit to a drug test that was required to be administered in a nondiscriminatory manner”. A claimant’s refusal to submit to a drug test cannot be adjudicated without first determining whether the test was administered in a nondiscriminatory manner. Under Section 29(1)(m)(ii)(C), for a drug test to be administered in a “nondiscriminatory manner”, it must be “administered impartially and objectively.”

Here, Claimant is not disqualified for benefits under Section 29(1)(m)(ii) because the drug test was not administered in a non-discriminatory manner because it was administered subjectively and based on improper information. Claimant made an appropriate request for clarification, and when the employer chose to give unclear and incorrect information, the risk of confusing a worker causing that worker to make a wrong decision was foreseeable. Further, the employer’s explanation to Claimant did not include the fact that Claimant would have the right to dispute the result of the testing.

Digest author: Stephanie Marshak, Michigan Law, Class of 2016
Digest updated: October 29, 2017