TBA Law Blog


Posted by: Christy Gibson on Jun 4, 2015

By Josh Sudbury and Allison Cotton*

On April 7, 2015, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation providing new employment protections for handgun owners. The new law creates a private right of action for any employee who is terminated solely for storing a firearm or ammunition in the employee's vehicle while parked in the employer's parking lot. The law represents an outgrowth of the controversial "Guns in Trunks" legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2013.

The new law creates a new section in the Tennessee Code that contains Tennessee's statutory cause of action for retaliatory discharge. Tenn. Code. Ann. § 50-1-312, provides that:

no employer shall discharge or take any adverse employment action against an employee solely for transporting or storing a firearm or firearm ammunition in an employer parking area in a manner consistent with § 39-17-1313(a).

Employers should note that the new protection extends to any adverse employment actions such as discipline, demotion, and/or cuts in pay or status. However, the bill does contain some important limitations that employers should note. First, the new law does not protect handgun owners as a class. Rather, to obtain the law's protection, the employee must show that he/she is a handgun-carry permit holder and he/she was properly storing the firearm and/or ammunition as required by law. Second, to prevail on a claim under the new law, an employee must show that his/her exercise of the right to transport and store firearms and ammunition was the sole cause for the adverse employment action. This is a heavy burden. Third, it is important to note that despite its employment protections, the new law specifically reserves the employer's right to prohibit firearms and ammunition from being carried on the employer's premises except when stored in parking areas consistent with the law.

The new law gives aggrieved employees the right to sue for injunctive relief and economic damages as well as for reasonable attorney fees and costs. Actions under the new law must be brought within one year of the adverse employment action and must be filed in the circuit or chancery court of the county where the alleged violation occurred. The McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis will apply to causes of action asserted under the new law.

Employers' Bottom Line:

The new law creates yet another consideration for employers when making tough decisions with regard to discipline and termination of employees. Employers should inform their frontline supervisors and managers of the new law and provide training regarding appropriate considerations when making employment-related decisions.

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*Josh Sudbury is a senior associate at Ford Harrison in its Nashville office, where he concentrates his practice on representing management in a variety of labor and employment matters. He received his J.D. at University of Memphis School of Law in 2009. Josh may be reached at jsudbury@fordharrison.com or 615-574-6705.

Allison Cotton an associate at Ford Harrison in its Nashville office, where she concentrates her practice on the representation of employers in labor and employment matters.  She received her J.D. from University of Tennessee School of Law in 2010, where she was a Student Materials Editor for the Tennessee Law Review and a Research Editor for Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law. Allison may be reached at acotton@fordharrison.com or 615-574-6706.