On August 8, 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a former employee can sue his employer for terminating his employment for legally storing a gun in his locked car on company property.
In this case, the Defendant wmployer terminated the Plaintiff employee’s employment upon learning he had a firearm in his car, in violation of company policy. The employee filed suit claiming wrongful discharge and further for defamation based on statements made by the company in labeling him a “security risk” and warning other employees to alert authorities if he was sighted near the employer’s facility. The state where the incident happened, Mississippi, has a gun owners’ protection law that prohibits an employer from maintaining or enforcing a policy that prohibits a person from storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in any parking lot, garage, or other designated parking area open to the public.
This was a case of first impression: whether a gun owners’ protection law creates an exception to the at-will employment doctrine. The federal district court dismissed the suit because the Mississippi gun owners’ protection law provides a release for liability to employers for damages caused by employees’ firearms on company property, but does not create any exceptions to the general at-will employment statutes. However, the Fifth Circuit reversed that decisions, based on the Mississippi Supreme Court finding in March of 2016 that the law does indeed create such an exception. As such, the Fifth Circuit concluded the employee had properly stated a claim for wrongful discharge.
This case serves as a warning to businesses to use caution when maintaining or enforcing policies contrary to state statutes. As multiple states have passed similar firearm protection laws, at-will employers will need to carefully consider any potential liabilities that may be created by their own firearm policies.
The decision may be read here.