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Coats v. Dish Network

The Supreme Court of Colorado Upholds Employer’s Right to Ban Employee Marijuana Use

On June 15, 2015, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case of Coats v. Dish Network that employers can terminate employees for their off-duty use of marijuana, despite state law permitting its medicinal and recreational use.

The employee in this case, Brandon Coats, is a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who uses the drug to help with violent spasms and seizures he has suffered since he was paralyzed in a car accident.  Dish Network has a zero-tolerance substance abuse policy.  Mr. Coats worked for Dish Network as a customer service representative for three years until he failed a random drug test, and his employment was terminated for violation of the substance abuse policy.  After his termination, Mr. Coats sued Dish Network, alleging that his marijuana use was permitted under a Colorado state law intended to protect employees from being fired for legal activities off the clock.  Mr. Coats argued that he did not use marijuana at work and was never accused of being high on the job.

The Colorado Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding that under Colorado’s lawful activities statute, the term “lawful” refers only to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law.  Therefore, employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.  In so ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court has solidified the rights of employers in that state to maintain policies that prohibit employees from using marijuana, and to discipline and terminate employees who violate such policies.

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