U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

5th Cir.: Mississippi's Gun Laws Trump Company Policy

In a case about the clashing of state laws and company policy with regards to firearms, the Fifth Circuit has sided with the state.

A man who, contrary to his employer's policy, kept a locked gun in his car in the company parking lot can sue for wrongful termination under Mississippi law, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. The unanimous three-judge panel reversed a lower court finding that state public policy opinions couldn't trump employer's policy on guns, reviving Robert Swindol's lawsuit against his former employer, Aurora Flight Sciences Corp.

Swindol's Dismissal

Robert Swindol was an employee at Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. in Mississippi. One day, he came to work and locked a gun in his car in the company parking lot. When Swindol's employer found out about the gun, it terminated him and also issued a companywide warning that Swindol was a "security risk."

Swindol sued for wrongful termination and defamation. The trial court dismissed both of Swindol's claims with prejudice.

Applicable Law

Before so ruling, the Fifth asked the Mississippi State Supreme Court to weigh in. In its response to the Fifth's certified question, the state Supreme Court issued an opinion which said, in large part, that the state statute could make an employer within the state liable for wrongful discharge for a firing based on keeping a locked gun inside one's vehicle. As a result, a violation of Mississippi Code Section 45-9-55, the statute allowing employees to store their guns in their cars, can leave an employer liable when they fire an employee for doing just that.

The ruling isn't a total loss for gun-shy employers, though. Mississippi's highest court also said that state law ought to be understood to protect employers from legal exposure for any occurrences involving its employees and third parties and locked guns in employee cars.

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