Labor & Employment Law Daily Nissan could fire contract worker who kept a firearm in his car in the parking lot
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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Nissan could fire contract worker who kept a firearm in his car in the parking lot

By Lisa Milam, J.D.

A Mississippi law prohibits employers from banning workers from keeping firearms in their vehicles. But there is an exception when a company parking lot is sufficiently secure.

The employee of a Nissan North America contractor who worked on site at a Nissan manufacturing facility could not sue the automaker for wrongful discharge after he was fired for keeping a loaded weapon in his car. Both Nissan policy and his employer’s policy prohibit employees from keeping firearms in their vehicles in the company parking lot. However, the employee argued that his right to keep a firearm in his locked car is protected by Mississippi law. As the Fifth Circuit explained, though, in affirming summary judgment in Nissan’s favor, there is an exception in the statute when an employer’s parking lot is restricted-access and sufficiently secure, and that exception applied here (McIntyre v. Nissan North America, Inc., May 29, 2020, Southwick, L.).

The employee routinely parked his vehicle in Lot 1B at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi, manufacturing plant, the lot reserved for CalsonicKansei employees working at the plant. (CalsonicKansei leased space at the plant, along with Lot 1B.) When CalsonicKansei received an anonymous tip one day that the employee kept a loaded weapon in his car, a security guard accompanied the employee to the parking lot, searched the employee’s vehicle, and found the weapon in the center console of his car. The employee was sent home and was fired four days later.

He sued both his employer and Nissan for wrongful discharge, citing a Mississippi statute that allows employees to have firearms in their vehicles. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of both defendants. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.

Right to weapons in vehicles. Under Miss. Code Ann. § 45-9-55(1), an 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.” The Mississippi Supreme Court had already addressed the “foundational issue” of whether the statute afforded a private right of action for violations (it does).

However, Section 45-9-55(2) allows an employer to ban firearms from it parking lot if “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.” This provision has not yet been interpreted by the state high court.

The lot was secure. For the protections embodied in the state statute to have meaning, the exception must be narrow enough so as not to eliminate completely the right of employees to possess firearms in vehicles, the appeals court observed. Consequently, the means adopted by employers to secure their parking lots “must have a more than negligible impact on access.” Here, Lot 1B’s security features more than fit the bill.

The drop arms at the parking lot entrances were down at least part of the time, limiting lot access (although the parties disputed whether the arms were in the “down” position by default. There was also a security camera at the entrance, monitored from a central security office. Security officers continuously patrolled the entire plant, including Lot 1B. Moreover, a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire circled the entire Nissan plant. “We conclude that fact is statutorily relevant because limiting access to a larger facility will also limit access to its individual components,” the appeals court reasoned.

Finally, no-trespassing signs were visibly posted at all plant entrances. “Signs limit by declaring there is no right to enter,” the court wrote. “Indeed, posted notice prohibiting entry is a significant legal restriction because entering another’s property in disregard of a properly displayed sign can be a criminal offense.” Given these security features, “[I]t is enough in this case for us to say that the methods Nissan adopted more than suffice.”

The appeals court therefore did not address other disputed issues on appeal—including whether it mattered that Nissan was not the employee’s statutory employer.

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