June 16, 2015

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Colorado Supreme Court Upholds Employer's Termination of Medical Marijuana User in Coats v. Dish Network

On June 15, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decision in Coats v. Dish Network. The court in Coats upheld the termination of an employee who failed a random drug test after using marijuana for medicinal purposes during his off-duty hours. The employee argued that because his use of medical marijuana was lawful under Colorado law, he was protected from discharge under Colorado’s “lawful activities” statute, which generally prohibits employers from terminating employees for engaging in lawful off-duty conduct.

Rejecting the employee’s argument, the court held that as used in Colorado’s lawful activities statute, the term “lawful” refers to those activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Because marijuana use remains unlawful under federal law, employees who use marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, are not protected by the statute. By affirming the right of employers to implement and enforce drug policies that fit their particular needs, the court’s decision brings much-needed clarity to this aspect of Colorado law.

Appearing on behalf of the Colorado Mining Association, Ryley Carlock & Applewhite attorneys Mike Moberly and Charitie Hartsig co-authored an amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) brief in support of the employer’s position, arguing that employers in safety-sensitive industries such as mining, in particular, should be entitled to discharge employees for off-duty marijuana use even if that use is permissible under state law. The Colorado Mining Association is an industry organization whose 1,000 members include the producers of coal, metals and other minerals throughout Colorado, the west and the world, together with vendors and service providers to Colorado’s $8.8 billion industry. The mining industry places a high priority on the safety of its workforce. View the amicus brief here.

Click here to view the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision.

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