The state Supreme Court issued a decision Thursday stating that employers in Mississippi cannot fire employees for keeping a firearm in a locked vehicle in a publicly-accessible parking area.
The decision comes in favor of a former Aurora Flight Sciences employee’s lawsuit against the company.
West Point native Robert Swindol filed a federal lawsuit against Aurora Flight Services in 2013 after the company fired him. He was fired after company officials found a pistol in his car’s front seat in the company’s parking lot. He is seeking $1 million in damages.
“It’s like a ton of bricks was taken off my chest,” Swindol said of the decision, adding he has not been able to get a job in the aerospace arena since the incident. “It’s been extremely stressful. My name was sort of dragged through the mud…We’re not completely out of the woods, but it’s some good news.”
The state’s high court, in an opinion authored by Justice Ann Lamar, said that employers can be held liable for damages if they fire an employee for keeping a gun locked in a car in a parking area open to the public.
Tupelo attorney David Butts, who is representing Swindol, called Thursday’s decision a victory for employees everywhere.
“This is a tremendous and well-reasoned opinion by the Mississippi Supreme Court supporting the rights of citizens to bear arms without undue restriction, specifically where it is permitted by law, which is what this case was all about to begin with,” Butts said. “I consider it a victory for Mr. Swindol, a victory for every employee in the state, and a victory for the Second Amendment.”
Swindol began working at Aurora Flight Sciences as a sheet metal mechanic in 2010. In 2013, Swindol was told by a co-worker that a human resources manager was photographing the inside of his truck, where an unloaded 9mm pistol Swindol had painted for a friend was sitting in plain sight, according to his lawsuit.
Swindol was called into a meeting with his human resources director and supervisor where he was fired, according to the lawsuit. The suit states that after Swindol left, plant employees were called into a meeting where Swindol was labeled a “security risk.”
U.S. District Court sided with Aurora and dismissed Swindol’s wrongful-discharge claim. The court said that it did not believe the state Supreme Court would recognize an exemption for at-will employment for Swindol’s case.
Swindol appealed the case to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appellate court then asked the state Supreme Court if state law — specifically Mississippi Code §45-9-55 — protects employers from lawsuits for damages over firearms stored in vehicles.
The law says any employer “may not establish, maintain or enforce” policies barring someone from carrying or storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in a parking lot, parking garage or other designated parking area. A later portion of the law says employers can’t be held liable in civil lawsuits for incidents that arise from firearms being stored or transported in a vehicle in such a way.
Aurora argued before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that this protected the company from liability in Swindol’s suit.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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