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Injured worker fired for marijuana use can’t claim wrongful termination

Posted On: Aug. 17, 2022 8:01 AM CST


The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that an injured worker fired after testing positive for marijuana did not have a viable wrongful termination claim against his employer, in part because the drug remains illegal under federal law.

The high court also said laws allowing the sale and use of recreational cannabis in Nevada also include provisions that allow employers to maintain and enforce policies prohibiting off-hour drug use, according to the decision in Ceballos v. NP Palace LLC, filed in Carson City.

Danny Ceballos worked as a table games dealer at Palace Station in Las Vegas for more than a year. Toward the end of his shift on June 25, 2020, he slipped and fell in the employee breakroom. Casino security responded, first assisting Mr. Ceballos, then requiring him to submit to a drug test. The test came back positive for marijuana, and on July 16, 2020, Palace Station terminated his employment.

Mr. Ceballos sued Palace Station, asserting a violation of state law for private right of action in favor of an employee who is discharged from employment for engaging in “the lawful use in this state of any product outside the premises of the employer during the employee's nonworking hours.”

A trial court judge dismissed the complaint, reasoning that since federal law criminalizes the possession of marijuana in Nevada, its use is not “lawful.”

The Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the trial judge that the phrase “lawful use in this state” does not just mean lawful under state law.

The high court's reasoning was similar to that of the Colorado Supreme Court in the 2015 decision allowing Dish Network to fire Brandon Coats for his medicinal cannabis use. The Colorado court said state laws intended to protect workers from being fired for “lawful” off-duty activities didn't apply to cannabis because it's illegal under federal law.

The Nevada court further found that Mr. Ceballos’ termination did not violate public policy.

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