Brandon Coats worked for Dish Network at a customer service representative.  Chronically ill and bound to a wheelchair, he suffers from incurable quadriplegia, a painful and debilitating condition whose symptoms often include prolonged, painful muscle spasms.

Mr. Coats was prescribed medicinal marijuana by his treating doctor, which is a very common clinically-proven supplemental therapy which has been shown to increase the quality of life in quadriplegics with associated nerve and muscle pain.  The only problem with that, however, is that Dish Network has a policy of reinforcing a drug-free workplace, regardless of whether or not the employee has a prescription from a medical doctor for the cannabis use.

At this point you may be thinking that the idea of an employer enforcing a drug-free workplace is a good idea, regardless of whether or not the employee has a prescription for the drug. After all, no employer should be forced to allow employees to be on drugs while working.

But that’s where the problem begins – because, you see, Mr. Coats did not take marijuana at work.  He only took his prescribed dosage of marijuana outside of work hours.  Still, getting wind of the marijuana use (even with a prescription) was enough cause, in Dish Network’s opinion, to fire Brandon Coats for his violation of company policy.

State Supreme Court Agrees

Mr. Coats and his attorney fought the termination all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court, which unanimously agreed with the district court’s ruling that Dish Network did not violate state wrongful termination laws when it decided to fire Coats for taking the medication prescribed by his own doctor.

Here’s the reasoning: Although state law at the time of Mr. Coats’ use in question allowed medicinal marijuana as a legal means of treating many chronic illnesses, Federal law still prohibits cannabis use for any reason whatsoever.  So in its decision to uphold the firing as lawful, the Supreme Court noted that “employees who engage in activities permitted by state law but not federal law are not protected by a state’s lawful activities statutes”.
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