Can employees in Mississippi sue if they're fired for having a gun in their parked cars?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Mississippi Code § 45-9-55 provides,

(1) 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, parking garage, or other designated parking area.

(2) A private employer may prohibit an employee from transporting or storing a firearm in a vehicle in a parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area the employer provides for employees to which access is restricted or limited through the use of a gate, security station or other means of restricting or limiting general public access onto the property.

(3) This section shall not apply to vehicles owned or leased by an employer and used by the employee in the course of his business.

(4) This section does not authorize a person to transport or store a firearm on any premises where the possession of a firearm is prohibited by state or federal law.

(5) A public or private employer shall not be liable in a civil action for damages resulting from or arising out of an occurrence involving the transportation, storage, possession or use of a firearm covered by this section.

Does this mean that an employee who is fired in violation of this statute can sue the employer for damages stemming from the loss of his job? A federal district court, in Swindol v. Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., said "no," because of Mississippi's strong "employment at will" policy, under which employers can part ways with employees for nearly any reason, except those forbidden by statute. And Mississippi Code § 45-9-55, the court said, "does not provide for a private right of action" by employees who are subjected to the forbidden employer policies. But Friday's Fifth Circuit opinion in the case certified the question to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which is the ultimate interpreter of Mississippi law. A brief summary of the facts:

Swindol [, who] worked for Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation in Mississippi … parked his car in Aurora's parking lot with a firearm locked inside. Aurora's managers learned about the firearm and fired Swindol later the same day for violating a company policy forbidding firearms on company property.

And the Fifth Circuit's summary of the uncertainty:

Section 45-9-55 clearly expresses a public policy prohibiting employers from barring employees from possessing firearms in the manner the plaintiff claims he did. Yet there are no state-law authorities to guide us in deciding how this statute affects the employment-at-will doctrine. Mississippi state courts have not identified any exceptions to the doctrine beyond those in [McArn v. Allied Bruce-Terminix Co., Inc., 626 So.2d 603, 606 (Miss. 1993)]. That consistency raises compelling comity interests that stay our hand from adding an exception in federal court even were we to decide an exception had been statutorily created. The Mississippi Supreme Court is the only court that can definitively decide whether the well-settled McArn doctrine has been affected by Section 45-9-55.

It will be interesting to see what the Mississippi Supreme Court says.