Colorado Supreme Court Upholds Termination for Positive Marijuana Test
In Coats v. Dish Network, the Colorado Supreme Court held that an employer may fire an employee for off-duty medical marijuana use, even though Colorado had legalized the use of marijuana.
In Coats, Mr. Coats, a quadriplegic who has used a wheelchair since he was a teenager, was discharged by Dish Network after he tested positive for THC in a random drug test. Mr. Coats was a registered medical marijuana user, accessing the product in a manner consistent with state constitutional guarantees and state statute legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Dish Network fired Mr. Coats for violating the Company’s drug policy.
Mr. Coats filed a wrongful discharge claim against Dish Network, asserting that his discharge was actionable under Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities statute, C.R.S. § 24-34-402.5. That statute prohibits employers from discharging employees due to “lawful activities” off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours. Mr. Coats contended that Dish Network violated the statute by terminating him based on his outside-of-work medical marijuana use, an activity he argued was “lawful” under Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Amendment.
Dish Network moved to dismiss Mr. Coats’s lawsuit for failure to state a claim. The State District Court granted the dismissal and the dismissal was affirmed by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the ruling, holding that Dish Network had the right to fire Mr. Coats because marijuana use remained illegal under federal law. Thus, according to the Court, Dish Network had not violated the Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. As stated by the Court:
…we find nothing to indicate that the General Assembly intended to extend section 24-34-402.5’s protection for “lawful” activities to activities that are unlawful under federal law. In sum, because Coats’s marijuana use was unlawful under federal law, it does not fall within section 24-34-402.5’s protection for “lawful” activities.