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Colorado Court of Appeals sides with Department of Corrections employee, holding that the DOC went too far when it terminated Mr. Stiles for a single, off-work use of marijuana.

The Colorado state personnel system is established by the Colorado Constitution.  It is a system based on merit and fitness, providing state employees with due process rights to ensure that employment disciplinary decisions are based on merit and fitness and not a political or “spoils” system. In January 2019, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Colorado Department of Corrections v. Stiles affirming the State Personnel Board’s decision that the Department of Corrections (DOC) could not fire Mr. Stiles for a single, off-work use of marijuana without considering mitigating factors.

Critically, the Court also affirmed the basic due process right of employees to a de novo hearing before the Personnel Board. This means when an agency is challenged for acting arbitrarily and capriciously in disciplining an employee it must participate in a hearing at which the Administrative Law Judge makes credibility, factual, and legal findings without deference to the agency. In April 2019 the DOC asked the Colorado Supreme Court to reverse this decision.  The DOC is advocating for a standard that gives employer-agencies discretion to fire or otherwise discipline an employee without a full evidentiary hearing. The State Personnel Board takes the position that the standard set out in DOC v. Stiles is consistent with crucial constitutional and statutory due process principles as well as long-standing Colorado Supreme Court precedent, including Dep’t of Instits., Div. for Developmental Disabilities, Wheat Ridge Reg’l Ctr. v. Kinchen, 886 P.2d 700, 705 (Colo. 1994).

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