Challenge of Firearms Ban in Parking Lot Sent to Trial

By Madonna Snowden December 4, 2018
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​A jury should decide whether an employer's parking lot access was sufficiently restricted for a Mississippi employer to ban firearms in locked vehicles, a federal district court decided.

Huntington Ingalls Inc. fired the plaintiff after a security guard patrolling its parking lot observed two speed loaders for a revolver in plain sight inside the plaintiff's van, in violation of company policy prohibiting firearms on its premises. In addition to the two speed loaders, a revolver loaded with five rounds of hollow-point bullets was found during a search of the plaintiff's vehicle.

Under Mississippi law, an employer may not establish or enforce any policy or rule that has the effect of banning an employee from storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in an employer's parking lot. Under an exception in Section 45-9-55(2) of the Mississippi Code, however, an employer may prohibit firearms in an employee's vehicle if "access is restricted or limited through the use of a gate, security station or other means."

Relying on Section 45-9-55, the plaintiff filed suit against Ingalls for wrongful discharge, arguing that his termination for having a firearm in his locked vehicle on company premises violated state law.

Ingalls moved for summary judgment, maintaining its firearm policy is enforceable because it restricts public access to its parking lot with no-trespassing signs, security patrols and closed-circuit cameras monitored in a central security station. The company asserted that it complies with the state law and could terminate the plaintiff for having a firearm in his van in the parking lot.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Involuntary Termination of Employment in the United States]

The plaintiff countered that, at the time he was fired, Ingalls' parking lot was not properly restricted within the meaning of the statute because anyone could drive into the parking lot from a public road, there was no gate, and the no-trespassing signs were rusted, falling down and illegible.

The court denied Ingalls' motion for summary judgment, finding that whether the employer's security measures were effective to properly restrict the parking lot under Mississippi law was genuinely disputed. The court noted that the parking lot was not gated, nor was there manned, controlled access to the parking lot, and vehicles were not searched or screened as they entered the parking area. Therefore, the court held, "the effectiveness of Ingalls' parking lot policy in achieving its stated goal of improving security seems questionable."

Smith v. Huntington Ingalls Inc., S.D. Miss., No. 1:16cv406-HSO-JCG (Aug. 27, 2018).

Professional Pointer: Employers, particularly those with employees in multiple states, should be aware of each state's guns-at-work laws when drafting workplace policies and should consider tailoring separate firearm policies for each applicable jurisdiction.

Madonna Snowden is an attorney with Allen Norton & Blue, P.A., the Worklaw® Network member firm in Winter Park, Fla.

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