Robert Swindol, an honorably discharged vet, was employed by Aurora Flight Sciences in Columbus, MS.
After his discharge from the Marines, Swindol had worked in the aerospace industry for several years and was hired away from another employer by Aurora.
Aurora had in place a “no firearms” policy at any place on its premises. This policy covered its open-to-the-public parking lot (that is, one with no gate, guardhouse, fence or other means of restricting access to the lot).
Aurora’s policy was in direct violation of Section 45-9-55 of the Mississippi Code, which provides…
“…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, parking garage, or other designated parking area.”
This statutory language applies only to those parking lots which are “open-to-the-public,” as defined by the statute.
On May 31, 2013, it was discovered that Swindol had a firearm in his locked car parked in Aurora’s exposed parking lot (supposedly by a co-employee who reported him to management).
According to Swindol, he was called into a meeting with the HR director and others (with Lowndes County Sheriff’s Deputies standing at the door of the meeting room) and fired.
He was told to get off Aurora’s premises. He was then “escorted” to his vehicle by the deputies and departed.
After his departure, Swindol learned that a plant-wide meeting had been called and he had been declared a “security risk” and if seen on Aurora’s premises the employees were told to call 911.
The suit alleged that if the employees did not do so they would be fired as well.
Swindol, through his attorney David Butts, filed suit against Aurora in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi for wrongful discharge and slander.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock. Aurora asked the Court to dismiss the suit, arguing that Mississippi is an “at-will” employment state and there are only two exceptions to that common law doctrine (A common law doctrine is one established by courts, not by the Legislature).
Those exceptions, Aurora argued, are that an employee can only be wrongfully discharged for refusing to commit an illegal act or for reporting an illegal act committed by their employer (of course, there are federal laws which prohibit discriminating against employees on account of race, sex, age, religion or national origin).
Swindol, on the other hand, asked the Court to enforce the Mississippi law as written and allow his case to go forward.
On September 30, 2014, Judge Aycock dismissed Swindol’s suit.
The Court refused to enforce Section 45-9-55, stating:
“…in the face of Mississippi’s long standing reluctance to expand its existing public policy exceptions to the doctrine of at-will employment, the Court cannot say that the Mississippi Supreme Court would recognize a third exception to the doctrine of at-will employment as proposed (by Swindol—DB) here.”
As such, Swindol has failed to state a claim of wrongful discharge upon which relief may be given, and the same is therefore dismissed. “ Court’s Opinion, p. 7.
Swindol, through his attorney, had argued strenuously that Section 45-9-55 did, in fact, manifest a strong public policy (expressed by the Legislature in enacting the statute) in furthering and extending the rights of Mississippians to “bear arms,” as guaranteed by not only the statute, but the Mississippi and U.S. Constitutions.
The statute in question was passed a few years after the tragedy in Meridian where several employees at a plant had been killed and injured by a man who committed suicide after the shooting.
It was suggested to the Court that the Legislature had attempted to give employees some chance at self-defense in such a situation.
The Court further stated (quoting from a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case): “If the law of Mississippi is to be changed, (i)t is up to the Supreme Court of (Mississippi) and not this court to change the substantive law of that state.” Court’s Opinion, p. 5.
However, this is exactly what had been done in 1987 by Senior U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson in Laws v. Aetna Finance .
Judge Davidson created the “illegal act” exception to the at-will doctrine without the benefit of a decision from the Mississippi Supreme Court nor the Mississippi Legislature.
Obviously, the Court was not swayed by the arguments presented in behalf of Swindol. Accordingly, as long as the Court’s opinion and judgment stands, Section 45-9-55 apparently means nothing, and employers are free to ignore it.
Swindol , through legal counsel of David Butts Law Firm, appealed the Court’s decision on MS gun laws in 2014. The brief filed on behalf of Mr. Swindol, authored by Mississippi Attorney David Butts is HERE.
The District Court’s opinion is HERE.