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In Brandon Coats v. Dish Network L.L.C., the Colorado Supreme Court is weighing whether Dish Network had the right to fire Mr. Coats, who is quadriplegic and licensed to use medical marijuana in Colorado.
Englewood, Colo.-based Dish Network terminated Mr. Coats in 2010 after he tested positive for marijuana in violation of company policy, according to court records. He reportedly worked as a telephone operator when he was fired.
In his suit, Mr. Coats argues that he used marijuana within the limits of his medical license, he never used it on Dish Network's campus and was never under the influence of marijuana at work.
He argues his termination violates the Colorado Civil Rights Act.
Dish Network argues that Mr. Coats' marijuana use was not “lawful activity” under Colorado civil rights law because it was prohibited by state and federal law at the time.
Colorado law did not establish a constitutional right to use state-licensed medical marijuana. It established an affirmative defense against prosecution for medical marijuana use.
A panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in Dish Network's favor in April 2013. While finding that Mr. Coats was protected under Colorado law, the majority said state law does not “extend employment protection to those engaged in activities that violate federal law.”
The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear Mr. Coats' case in January, but has not yet ruled.
Companies with employees in states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana are reemphasizing and, in some cases, strengthening their drug-free workplace policies and safety procedures.