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BRING-YOUR-GUN-TO-WORK-DAY? . . . . MAYBE! Swindol v. Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation

Robert Swindol brought his gun to work . . . kind of. He parked his car in the Aurora Flight Services parking lot with his firearm locked inside. Aurora’s mangers learned about the firearm and fired Swindol that day for violating a company policy forbidding firearms on company property. Aurora then convened a company-wide meeting during which its human resources manager advised employees that Swindol was a security risk and that the police should be called if Swindol was sighted near the facility.

Aggrieved, but thankfully not to the degree sometimes associated with certain quirky, reclusive employees, of the USPS, Swindol sued Aurora for wrongful discharge and defamation. Swindol argued that Miss. Code Ann. §45-9-55(1) prohibits enforcement of the Aurora company policy that resulted in his termination:

Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2) of this section, a public or private employer may not establish, maintain or enforce any policy or rule that has the effect of prohibiting a person from transporting or storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in any parking lot, garage, or other designated parking area. Miss. Code. Ann. §45-9-55(1)

Aurora shot back. It moved to dismiss Swindol’s complaint arguing that Mississippi’s employment-at-will doctrine allowed Aurora to fire Swindol for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. The District Court agreed noting that in the 20 year life span of the employment-at-will doctrine, Mississippi courts have recognized only 2 exceptions to the doctrine – neither of which applied here. The district court went on to conclude that Mississippi State courts would not recognize discharging an employee for possession of a weapon in his car in a manner compliant with §45-9-55(1) as an exception to Mississippi’s employment-at-will doctrine. Ever civil, Swindol reloaded for the Fifth Circuit.

On appeal, Swindol fired off his lower court argument, and further contended that the court should interpret §45-9-55 to create a separate and additional policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine, because doing so would fortify Mississippi’s public policy supporting the right to bear arms. As further ammunition for his position, Swindol asserted that such a policy is found in article III, §12 of the Mississippi Constitution’s provision protecting “[t]he right of every citizen to keep and bear arms.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged the good, the bad and the ugly of Mississippi’s employment-at-will doctrine. But the Court also observed that §45-9-55(1) went beyond simply giving rights to employees by forbidding enforcement of a policy that prohibits employees from having weapons in their locked vehicle. Caught in the crosshairs, the Court framed the issue as whether that prohibition is sufficient to create an exception to the Mississippi employment-at-will doctrine. Citing no clear controlling precedents in the decisions of the Mississippi Supreme Court, and stating that the Mississippi Supreme Court is the only court that can definitively decide whether §45-9-55 provides an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held its decision in abeyance, and 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.”

So for now, we’ll have to wait on the Mississippi Supreme Court to settle this once and for all. But I know what you are thinking . . . “Will the Mississippi Supreme Court let me bring my gun to work or not?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track on how the Court leans in these matters. But being as it is the most powerful Court in Mississippi, and can blow your rights clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?

Paul S. Murphy

Paul Murphy

Swindol v. Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, No. 14-60779 (5th Cir. Aug. 28, 2015)