Friday, April 27, 2012

University Employee's Right to Bring a Gun - COTW #89

The employee in Mitchell v. University of Kentucky (opinion here), kept his gun in his car . . . even when he went to work at UK. Unfortunately for him, the school has a policy prohibiting possession of a deadly weapon on campus (or while conducting University business). The university finds out, and the employee gets fired.

Not so fast! The employee strikes back with a wrongful termination claim. Generally, to bring a wrongful termination claim, the employee must show that he or she was terminated in violation of an established public policy (like a statute or constitutional provision).

By Kentucky statute:
No person or organization, public or private, shall prohibit a person licensed to carry a concealed deadly weapon from possessing a firearm, ammunition, or both, or other deadly weapon in his or her vehicle.
KRS § 527.020(4). He did have a license. Sounds promising... just one problem... the statute requires "compliance with" § 237.115. Hmmm, ok, and what does that say? It generally protects:
[T]he right of a college [or] university . . . to control the possession of deadly weapons on any property owned or controlled by them.
Suddenly the tables have turned, and the university looks like they're sitting pretty, right? Just one more twist . . . the university has the right to control the possession of deadly weapons, "[e]xcept as provided in KRS 527.020."

So, if you've been paying close attention:
  • The employee has the right to keep his gun in his car, so long as he complies with the statute that protects the university's right to control possession of deadly weapons on campus.
  • But, the statute that protects a university's right to control deadly weapons contains an express exception for the statute that protects the employee's right to keep his gun in his car.
Sounds like a big circle to me! The Court ultimately resolves the issue (can I call it a conundrum?) in favor of the employee, who is allowed to proceed with his wrongful termination claim. Although the case depends on Kentucky law, it's an interesting fact pattern, an unusual wrongful termination claim, and a good example of complex statutory interpretation.

HT: Euguene Volokh and his conspiracy.