Lawyers, Guns, and Parking Lots
The Tennessee Legislature recently provided employees with a valid handgun carry permit a new private right of action against their employers. As of July 1, 2015, pursuant to Public Chapter 80, Tennessee employees – who possess a valid handgun carry permit – can now sue their employer if the employer discharges or takes “any adverse employment action” against them solely for storing a firearm in their vehicle located in the employer’s parking area. Tenn. Pub. Acts Chapter No. 80 (July 1, 2015).
In bringing such an action, the employee bears the initial burden of proving that the discharge or adverse action was based solely on the stored firearm. If the employee satisfies its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the employer “to produce evidence that one (1) or more legitimate reasons existed for the employee’s discharge or adverse employment action.” Id. Moreover, the employer’s burden is “one of production and not persuasion.” If the employer meets its burden and rebuts the employee’s prima facie case, the burden shifts back to the employee “to demonstrate that the reason given by the employer was not the true reason for the employee’s discharge, or adverse employment action, and that the stated reason was a pretext for discharge or adverse employment action.” Id.
Employees have one (1) year to bring a claim premised on a wrongful discharge of this nature and must bring their claim “in the chancery or circuit court having jurisdiction in the county where the alleged violation…occurred.” Id. Employees can recover economic damages plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. Id. Ultimately, employers must now tread carefully before taking any action against an employee who possesses a firearm in their vehicle located on the employer’s property.