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

Company Policy Must Bend to State Gun Laws

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, says the Fifth Circuit.

This case is fundamentally about the clashing of state laws with company policy with regard to dangerous arms. The circuit court's ruling recognizes a new public policy exception to the doctrine of at-will employment.

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 Swindo's employer found out about the gun, it terminated him and also issued a company wide 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. He appealed.

Applicable Law

According to applicable Mississippi law, certain exceptions to at-will employment concerning company gun policies exist. In Swindol's case, the circuit court found that state law allows workers to keep their firearms in locked vehicles on company grounds despite the company's contravening policy. In essence, Mississippi law allows workers to keep their guns locked in their cars in accordance with accepted public policy.

The Fifth Circuit's decision was no doubt largely influenced by the Mississippi State Supreme Court's 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 a locked gun inside the employee's vehicle. As a result, Mississippi Code Section 45-9-55 cannot be used as a justification to terminate an at-will employee.

At the same time, 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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