Employee Gun Rights
Prohibiting firearms in company parking lots could lead to wrongful discharge claims
The Fifth Circuit, in a case of first impression, decided Swindol v. Aurora Flight Scis. Corp. on August 8, 2016, and created a new exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. The decision was based on Mississippi Supreme Court’s interpretation of Mississippi Code Section 45-9-55, which is similar to Texas Labor Code Section 52.061. Section 45-9-55 provides that “a public or private employer may not establish, maintain, or enforce any policy or rule that has the effect of prohibiting a person from transporting or storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in any parking lot, parking garage, or other designated parking area.”
A Mississippi employee was fired for violating company policy by storing a firearm in his locked car on company property and thereafter sued his employer for wrongful discharge. The following question was certified to the Mississippi Supreme Court: “Whether in Mississippi an employer may be liable for wrongful discharge of an employee for storing a firearm in a locked vehicle on company property in a manner that is consistent with Section 45-9-55.” The Mississippi Supreme Court answered this question in the affirmative.
Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit held that under Section 45-9-55, it is “legally impermissible” to terminate an employee for having a firearm inside his locked vehicle on company property, thereby creating an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine.
Although Swindol is not binding on Texas courts, the Fifth Circuit opinion may provide some guidance to Texas courts that may interpret similar issues under Texas law. Employers should be cautious and review their company policies and handbooks to ensure they are not prohibiting permissive firearm storage under existing laws.
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