The D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) has forced Doretha Barber to choose between her medication and her job. This case raises a simple question: Does the fact that Ms. Barber’s medicine is medical marijuana make it acceptable for her employer to impose that choice?
Ms. Barber—a mother of four, a life-long D.C. resident, and, for the past ten years, a DPW employee—suffers from debilitating back spasms. Her spasms prevent her from walking, standing, or lifting. Her condition also causes her to experience migraines so excruciating that they often bring her to tears.
When traditional treatments proved inadequate, Ms. Barber’s doctor suggested that she try using medical marijuana.
Enrolled in the District’s medical marijuana program, Ms. Barber secured the right under District law to obtain and use the medication that her doctor proposed. She found that medical marijuana significantly improved her condition, making her spasms less frequent and less painful.
Like countless of medical marijuana patients throughout the country, Ms. Barber uses her medication responsibly. She has never come to work impaired or used medical marijuana on her employer’s property. She simply wants to be able to use medical marijuana at home and continue working as a sanitation worker—a position that involves raking leaves and trash from the city’s streets, but does not require her to operate machinery.
DPW has placed Ms. Barber on forced leave without pay and informed her that she cannot return to work until she stops using medical marijuana, even though she uses it only during her off-duty hours. The Department does not impose the same harsh choice on employees using other medications that can affect their performance at work.
The District of Columbia Human Rights Act requires employers to address the needs of people with disabilities based on facts, not stereotypes. Here, the facts are simple: Ms. Barber can perform her job duties as long as she’s allowed to use medical marijuana in her own time. She files this lawsuit to vindicate her right to equitable treatment.
We filed the complaint in D.C. Superior Court in October 2019, seeking damages and reinstatement with an accommodation to enable Ms. Barber to do her job without forgoing her medicine.