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Thursday, April 8, 2010 05:59 am

The inhuman essence of a corporate ‘person’

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I’m curious about those five Supreme Court justices who recently decreed that a corporation is a “person” with human rights: Do you think they ever met Mr. Walmart?

If they had, they’d be forced to concede that corporate personhood is a sheer fantasy, for there is nothing even remotely human about the bloodless and brainless thing that is Walmart. For conclusive evidence of this entity’s total lack of humanity, the learned judges should climb down from their high bench and visit with Joseph Casias, a 29-year-old former employee of a Walmart store in Battle Creek, Mich.

In fact, Casias was an excellent employee throughout his five-year tenure within the corporate person, even earning “Associate of the Year” honors in 2008.

“I always tried my best,” he says. “I gave them everything. One hundred ten percent every day. Anything they asked me to do, I did. More than they asked me to do. Twelve to 14 hours a day. I thought I was part of the Walmart family.”

Five months ago, however, he was coldly cast out of the family. What happened? It started with cancer — a rare form invaded his sinuses and brain. He’s getting treatment to control it, but he still suffers a severe level of chronic pain. Yet, Casias was able to keep doing his usual good job every day by using a controlled dose of marijuana that his doctor prescribed to alleviate pain — a prescription that is perfectly legal under Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

By carefully scheduling his daily dosage, Casias never came to work under the influence, and he never took the medicine on the job, so Walmart saw nothing but an employee performing well.

Until last November. In a routine drug screening by the company, Casias tested positive for pot. He showed his state medical marijuana permit to the corporate cogs, but instead of using common sense or showing a smidgeon of human compassion, the managers mindlessly clicked into Program 420g, Section 21-mj (or some such) of corporate-code — and summarily cashiered Casias.

Oh, come on, he’s no druggie — he has a painful cancer and is using legal medicine! If he were taking Oxycontin or other harsh drugs, you wouldn’t think of terminating your associate of the year.

But there is no “you” there. Walmart is a machine, a fabrication, not a sentient, reasoning person. So the machine responded to public outrage over Casias’ firing by issuing an insensate legal statement: “In states, such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires termination of employment following a positive drug screen. We believe our policy complies with the law, and we support decisions based on the policy.”

Cancer is enough of a burden on a person without corporate callousness adding to the pain, but Walmart just kept piling on this employee. He’s got no job, is facing $10,000 in unpaid medical bills and can no longer afford his cancer treatment, so what does the corporation do? It challenged Casias’ eligibility for unemployment compensation.

Not that Mr. Walmart hates the guy. It’s just the corporate way. For Casias, however, it’s a disaster. “It’s not fair,” he says.

Fair? To a corporation, “fair” is a place to take your pig to try to win a blue ribbon. Corporations are literally inhuman, possessing no sense of moral responsibility or human decency.

The good news is that real people are rallying against the faux person’s outrageous officiousness, and they’ve formed a Facebook page: “Let Joseph Casias Talk.” With the corporate image taking a beating and some customers organizing a boycott, the machinery for damage control kicked in at headquarters, prompting the company to drop its ugly effort to deny unemployment payments to Casias. It adamantly refuses, however, to take the one step he most needs: rehiring. And how about apologizing?

To convey your own thoughts directly to Citizen Walmart, call 800-963-8442. And to help reform the law to stop such corporate attacks on medical marijuana patients, contact the Marijuana Policy Project: www.mpp.org.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.
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