Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic medical-marijuana patient, was fired in 2010 from his job as a telephone operator for Dish Network after testing positive for the drug. His lawyers argued that Colorado law states it is illegal for workers to be terminated for participating in lawful activities off the job.
A trial court dismissed the claim in 2011, siding with Dish Network that medical marijuana use isn't a "lawful activity" covered by the termination law. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Thursday that employees can still be fired for testing positive for the drug -- even if they never show up to work impaired.
The court acknowledged that Dish Network never accused Coats of being impaired while on the job. Lawyers said Coats received satisfactory performance reviews all three years he worked at the company.
But the three-judge panel ruled that an employer ultimately has the right to fire an employee who violates federal law, whether they were a good worker or not. "For an activity to be lawful in Colorado, it must be permitted by, and not contrary to, both state and federal law," the court stated in its divided decision.
Coats' attorney Michael Evans plans to appeal the ruling, according to NBC News. "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," he said in a statement.
Voters approved marijuana legalization last fall, and state law provides for both medical and recreational use.