A Colorado Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that businesses can still fire employees who test positive for marijuana use, even if they never show up to work under the influence. According to NBC News, a divided panel of judges ruled that even though marijuana use is legal in the state, the fact that it is illegal under federal law trumps employees' right to privacy.
The case before the court centered around Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic former telephone operator for Dish Network. When Coats tested positive for medical marijuana use in 2010, Dish Network fired him.
Coats' attorney argued that Colorado law makes it illegal for businesses to fire for participating in lawful activity off the clock. After Thursday's ruling, while it appears that although the state's laws have changed, the verdict in Coats' case has not. The Appeals Court ruled that in order to be considered "lawful," a practice must be legal under state and federal law.
Coats' attorney Michael Evans said that the ruling is a blow to all Coloradans who use medicinal marijuana. In a media statement, he said, "This case not only impacts Mr. Coats, but also some 127,816 medical-marijuana patient-employees in Colorado who could be summarily terminated even if they are in legal compliance with Colorado state law."
In the opinion, Appeals Court Judge Janice Davidson wrote, "While we agree that the general purpose of (the Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute) is to keep an employer's proverbial nose out of an employee's off-site off-hours business ... we can find no legislative intent to extend employment protection to those engaged in activities that violate federal law."
The ruling was 2 to 1 with Judge John Webb dissenting.