A Utah firefighter sued Ogden City Fire Department last month. Levi Coleman alleges the department unlawfully suspended him from duty for refusing to surrender his medical marijuana card, reports the Standard-Examiner.
Levi Coleman’s suit, filed in 2nd District Court on Nov. 17 against the city and the Ogden Fire Department, accuses the defendants of discriminating against a government employee in violation of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.
Coleman has been a firefighter and EMT with Ogden since 2011. He said he suffers from chronic back pain but it did not interfere with the performance of his duties. He got a medical marijuana recommendation and a Utah medical Cannabis card in June.
Union Defends Firefighter
The President of Professional Firefighters of Utah told the Salt Lake Tribune the union is assisting and representing Coleman because the city isn’t following state law.
It’s unlawful in Utah for any company to take action against an employee simply for being a medical marijuana patient. The only exception to that rule is if the person is impaired on the job, reports The Intelligencer.
“This firefighter is following state law. The employer is not,” Jack Tidrow, president of the Professional Firefighters of Utah told the Tribune. “We just want to correct this as quick as we can.”
Firefighters Told To Surrender Medical Marijuana Cards
According to the lawsuit, the fire department adopted a policy in August that requires employees to report if they are taking prescriptions or over-the-counter medications whose labels warn of possible impairment. It also requires notification if any medicines could “interfere with the performance of essential job tasks.”
Coleman said he knew of other firefighters with medical marijuana cards who notified the department of the cards. The department put them on leave and told to give up medical Cannabis if they wanted to return to work. He said that they chose to surrender their cards so they could go back to work.
Other firefighters have non-Cannabis controlled substance prescriptions and are allowed to keep working, the suit alleges. It is, of course, yet another glaring example of the rank hypocrisy so prevalent around the subject of medical marijuana. This seems doubly true in conservative states like Utah, where hyper-moralistic morés have set back social progress by decades.
‘Great Concerns Policy-Wise’? Yeah, We’ll Say!
Ogden Deputy Fire Chief Mike Slater, head of the department’s medical operations, declined Friday to comment on the suit. Deputy Chief Slater instead referred any questions to the city attorney.
The city’s chief administrative officer, Mark Johnson, also chose not to comment on the suit. But he did briefly address the issue in general.
“We have some great concerns policy-wise with public safety individuals taking any form of controlled substances,” Johnson said. “So I think it’s a lot muddier than it’s being made out to be.”
Coleman knew he probably would be put on leave, according to the lawsuit. But he decided to keep his card and challenge the policy.
Ordered To Undergo ‘Fit For Duty’ Evaluation
Coleman said the department told him to undergo a “fit for duty” evaluation by a medical contractor. Coleman alleged the doctor did not perform a drug test or run him through a physical fitness test.
After talking to the firefighter and confirming he had a medical cannabis card, the doctor filed a report saying Coleman had a “medical condition which would endanger applicant or public.” The report said Coleman’s condition would “interfere with performance” because of “potential impairment” from medical cannabis.
The department then suspended Coleman without pay. They said he could come back to work only if he surrendered the card, according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges the suspension thus amounts to an outright firing.
Coleman “has neither failed a drug test nor been impaired at work and there is no evidence that his use of medical cannabis adversely affected his job performance,” according to the suit.
Suit: Fire Department Policy Should Be Rewritten
The suit demands that the fire department’s policy should be rewritten. It also specifies that Coleman be reinstated and reimbursed for vacation and sick leave he has been forced to use.
Coleman alleges his suspension is a violation of the Utah Whistleblower Act, as well. That is the act which protects employees who, in good faith, refuse to go against an improper directive.
Johnson claimed the “the science isn’t really perfected” regarding how medical marijuana affects patients. He said the city is concerned about any potential impairment of an employee “who may be driving a fire truck, a paramedic dealing with some life saving situation or a police officer having to use his weapon.”
Efforts to contact Coleman’s attorney, Erik Strindberg, weren’t successful.