The Dawn Of A New Wild, Wild West In Mississippi? State Supreme Court Rules On Employees Workplace Firearm Rights

by Fisher Phillips

On March 24, 2016, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued an opinion that allowed an employee to proceed with a wrongful discharge lawsuit after being terminated for possessing a gun on company premises, significantly altering employers’ ability to forbid the presence of firearms at the workplace (Swindol v. Aurora Flight Services Corporation). In doing so, the court created another exception to Mississippi’s venerable employment at-will doctrine, a doctrine that has existed in our state for 150 years. All employers, both public and private, should take note.

The Law At Issue
Before examining the decision, it is helpful to first review a relatively new state statute. In 2006, the Mississippi legislature enacted a statute that expands an employee’s rights to have a firearm. That law, found at Mississippi Code Section 45-9-55, states 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.

However, the law does permit private employers to prohibit workers from transporting or storing a firearm in a vehicle in a parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area provided for employees as long as access is restricted through the use of a gate, security station, or some other means of limiting general public access.

The law also permits both private and public employers to prohibit the transportation or storage of firearms in company vehicles that are used by an employee in the course of work, and states that employees may not transport or store a firearm on any premises where the possession of a firearm is prohibited by state or federal law.

Finally, the statute provides some measure of additional legal protection for Mississippi employers. It states that public and private employers shall not be liable in a civil lawsuit resulting from any situation involving the transportation, storage, possession, or use of a firearm covered by the new law. The Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision turned on an interpretation of this subsection of the law.

Employee Brings Gun To Work, Gets Fired
The case began when Robert Swindol, an employee of Aurora Flight Services Corporation located in Columbus, MS, brought a firearm onto Aurora’s premises. He stored it in his locked vehicle in Aurora’s general access parking lot. These actions violated Aurora’s policy forbidding firearms on Company property. Once his managers learned that he had a firearm in his vehicle, they discharged him.

Swindol sued Aurora in federal court for wrongful termination and defamation. Mississippi does not recognize a general cause of action for wrongful termination, but Swindol argued that the 2006 statute described above provided a legislatively created exception to the employment at-will doctrine.

The district court dismissed Swindol’s lawsuit and he appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 5th Circuit, in turn, 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.

State Supreme Court: Lawsuit Can Go Forward
The state Supreme Court ruled in Swindol’s favor, allowing him to proceed with a lawsuit against his former employer. In holding that Swindol could sustain a cause of action for wrongful termination, the court had to reconcile two seemingly irreconcilable statutory provisions. 

Although the statute clearly states that an employer may not prohibit exactly the kind of conduct in which Swindol admittedly engaged (storing a firearm in his locked vehicle in an employer’s open access employee parking lot), the statute also clearly states that employers shall not be liable in any civil action for damages resulting from an occurrence involving the transportation, storage, possession, or use of a firearm. Swindol argued that the statute allowed him to have his firearm in his locked vehicle.  Aurora argued that Swindol’s position may be accurate, but the statute also shielded Aurora from liability when it discharged him.

In considering these arguments, the Supreme Court recognized its own precedent that says all parts of a statute are to be given effect when possible. It also relied on Mississippi’s constitutional grant to its citizens of the right to keep and bear arms. 

The Supreme Court read the two seemingly conflicting provisions in harmony, giving effect to each subsection to the extent possible. The court held that the statute plainly establishes immunity from liability for the actions of employees or third parties, while granting employers with immunity should some sort of “occurrence” result from the employee having a stored firearm on the Company premises (including, perhaps, a workplace violence incident).

The Court noted such a reading of the statute as a whole was necessary in order to avoid one subsection of the statute nullifying another. Reading the statute in this fashion, the Court thereby recognized another exception to Mississippi’s employment at-will doctrine for the first time in more than 20 years. The last time this occurred was in 1993, when the state Supreme Court established two exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine (employers cannot discharge employees who refuse to participate in an illegal act, and cannot discharge employees who report illegal acts to the employer or to anyone else).

What Does The Decision Mean For Mississippi Employers? 
Most employers maintain “no firearms” policies in order to help ensure that there are no violent events at the workplace. What does this decision mean for Mississippi employers who want to retain and enforce such policies?

The statute still permits you to take certain actions limiting guns at work. First, you may still maintain and enforce a “no firearms” policy if you have a parking lot for employees to which access is restricted or limited (e.g., through a gate or security station). Second, you may prohibit the transportation or storage of firearms in company vehicles owned or leased by your business and used by an employee in the course of work. Finally, an employee may not transport or store a firearm on any premises where the possession of a firearm is prohibited by state or federal law. Accordingly, the first thing you should do is determine whether you can rely on any of these three statutory exemptions.

Unfortunately, however, this decision raises more questions than it answers. For example:

  • What happens if your general liability insurance carrier or workers’ compensation carrier mandates that you have a “no firearms” policy?
  • Does the statute allow an employee to store in a locked vehicle just one firearm or can it be multiple firearms? 
  • Does the firearm have to be a legal firearm?
  • Does the statute really protect you from liability if an employee injures or kills other employees or third-parties with the firearm that is stored in the vehicle?  
  • Just what is an “occurrence” that is shielded from liability?
  • Can you require employees to self-identify if they have a firearm in their locked vehicle in the parking lot? Would you want to?
  • What happens if an employee references his or her firearm in general workplace discussion as a means to intimidate other employees? 

At least with respect to the last question, you still have the ability to terminate employees who intimidate other employees, especially with threats of violence. As to the other questions, you will have to weigh the risks against the benefits of prohibiting firearms in the workplace in this new frontier.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Fisher Phillips | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Fisher Phillips

Fisher Phillips on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.