In Colorado, the state’s Lawful Activities Statute (C.R.S. 24-34-402.5) generally prohibits employers from firing an employee who engages in lawful outside-of-work activity. But what happens when state and federal law differ as to the lawfulness of the subject activity?
In Coats v. Dish Network, plaintiff was fired under the company’s zero-tolerance drug policy after failing a random drug test. A quadriplegic with a state-issued license to use medical marijuana to treat muscle spasms keeping him wheelchair-bound, failing the drug test was no surprise. This being Colorado with its liberal state marijuana laws, however, Coats argued the termination violated the Lawful Activities Statute.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the termination did not violate the Lawful Activities Statute because the activities at issue must be “lawful” under both state and federal law, which is not the case with marijuana use (21 U.S.C. 844(a)). “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.”
Although this decision is obviously specific to Colorado state law, it further emphasizes the importance to employers and employees alike of closely scrutinizing termination decisions.
Coats v. Dish Network, LLC, Case No. 13SC394 (June 15, 2015)