Firing for Gun at Work May Be Wrongful Discharge

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By Kevin McGowan

Aug. 9 — An aircraft production employee fired for keeping a gun in his locked car at work may sue for wrongful discharge under Mississippi law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled ( Swindol v. Aurora Flight Scis. Corp. , 2016 BL 255951, 5th Cir., No. 14-60779, 8/8/16 ).

The decision shows how state laws protecting the individual right to bear arms may create liability for employers that prohibit guns on company property.

A Mississippi statute that allows workers to store their firearms in a locked vehicle on company grounds creates a public policy exception to employment at will, the Fifth Circuit said Aug. 8.

It therefore reversed a district court's dismissal of Robert Swindol's wrongful discharge claim against Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. in Columbus, Miss.

Aurora fired Swindol in 2013 for violating a company policy prohibiting guns on its property. The termination, however, arguably infringed on a Mississippi law allowing a worker’s possession of firearms in a locked car, the court said.

State Court Weighed In

The Fifth Circuit previously had asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to answer a certified question about the effect of Mississippi Code Section 45-9-55 on the traditional doctrine that employees without contracts serve at will and may be fired for any reason.

The state supreme court in March replied that the Mississippi statute can make an employer liable for wrongful discharge if it fires an employee for having a firearm in a locked car at work.

Section 45-9-55 is “express legislative action” that makes terminating an employer for having a firearm inside his locked vehicle on company property “legally impermissible,” the state court told the Fifth Circuit.

The state court's answer means a wrongful discharge claim exists if an employee is fired for exercising rights protected by Section 45-9-55, Judge Leslie H. Southwick wrote.

The state supreme court also said the Mississippi law should be interpreted to protect employers from liability for any occurrences involving its employees or third parties that result from firearms being present in a vehicle on company property.

Judges Jacques L. Wiener Jr. and Edith Brown Clement joined in the decision.

David O. Butts in Tupelo, Miss., represented Swindol. McGuire Woods LLP and Holcomb Dunbar Watts Best Masters & Golmon P.A. represented Aurora.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin McGowan in Washington at kmcgowan@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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