Recently, Husch Blackwell partners Stephen Cockerham and Kevin Koronka presented a webinar to Texas employers concerning the impact legislation concerning gun rights may have on employers. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court with jurisdiction over Texas federal district courts, recently released a decision concerning employee gun rights of which employers, particularly those with Mississippi employees, should take note.
On Aug. 8, 2016, the Fifth Circuit released its opinion in Swindol v. Aurora Flight Scis. Corp., creating a new exception to Mississippi’s at-will employment doctrine and supporting Mississippi’s public policy on the right to bear arms. The case turned on Mississippi Code Section 45-9-55, a statute that, similar to Texas Labor Code § 52.061, provides that employers may not establish, maintain, or enforce any policy that prohibits workers from transporting or storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in any parking lot, parking garage, or other designated area.
The employee at issue was fired from when he parked his car in his employer’s parking lot with a firearm locked inside, which violated company policy. The employee sued for wrongful discharge. The trial court dismissed the employee’s claim on the basis that the Mississippi statute did not create an exception to the doctrine of at-will employment. The employee appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit, certified the following question to the Mississippi Supreme Court: “Whether in Mississippi an employer may be liable for a 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 the question in favor of the employee and, subsequently, the Fifth Circuit held that the Mississippi Legislature has declared it “legally impermissible” for an employer to terminate an employee for having a firearm inside his locked vehicle on company property, thereby creating a new exception to Mississippi’s at-will employment doctrine.
Although Mississippi and Texas law differ slightly on at-will employment relationships and the Fifth Circuit’s decision is not binding on courts applying Texas law, the Texas Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit may find the decision informative if they are asked to consider similar issues under Texas law. As a result, Texas employers should take notice of this decision as it is from the Fifth Circuit, but especially so if they also conduct operations in Mississippi.