Brandon Coats, the former Dish employee, has used medical marijuana since 2009 to control the painful spasms he has suffered ever since he was paralyzed in a car crash. Dish performed a drug test, in which his results were positive for marijuana. He was fired after the drug test.
In his lawsuit for wrongful termination, Coats argues his job at Dish is protected by a Colorado law that prohibits companies from firing workers for legal, off-duty activities. Coats says he never smoked on the job, but rather did so before going to bed to help alleviate his pain. He also states that marijuana had never hurt his job performance, which entailed answering customer calls for the satellite-television provider. Dish counters that because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, any marijuana smoking is not legal off-duty activity, and the company therefore had the right to fire Coats for violating the company-wide drug-free policy.
In Colorado, marijuana is legal for medical and recreation use. Twenty-three states permit medical or recreational marijuana. Nevertheless, workers in a similar situation to Coats’ have not been successful in court because their employers have successfully argued they retain the right to prohibit employees from using marijuana. In fact, employers in even the most marijuana friendly states discourage applicants from applying if they are not drug free or carry a medical marijuana card.
Employees with medical marijuana cards argue that this type of screening amounts to discrimination. If Coats wins this lawsuit, it could drastically change how businesses must treat marijuana using employees in the future. It could also hurt companies, who may lose federal contracts because they will be violating federal drug laws by hiring marijuana users.