COA: man not entitled to relief under firearms statute

March 3, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned a man’s request for summary judgment after he was fired for bringing a gun to work and instead granted summary judgment to his ex-employer after it found the man was not entitled to relief under statute or common law.

William Sudlow drove to work one day at Caterpillar Inc. and left his Ruger .357 Magnum handgun in sight as he went in. An employee noticed it and notified management, who first suspended and then summarily fired him for violating company policy.

The trial court granted summary judgment for Sudlow, saying that he did not violate the company policy in place at the time because there was not a policy that said he needed to keep his gun out of sight. That revised policy was posted the day after Sudlow was fired. The trial court awarded $85,000 in damages to Sudlow. Caterpillar appealed.

However, the COA had a different opinion. It said Sudlow was not entitled to relief under I.c. 34-28-7-2(a), the firearms statute, because Caterpillar’s firearms policy did not ban conduct protected by it, and the statute clearly says action under it is authorized only when an employer violates the statute, which Caterpillar did not do.

The COA also argued with Sudlow’s interpretation of the statute. “In other words, Sudlow believes that if an employer does not have a firearms policy in place, an employee could walk into the workplace with a loaded assault rifle and face no employment consequences as a result.”

The court said the statute is not nearly that broad, and its plain language means Sudlow was not protected under the statute.

Sudlow is also not entitled to relief under common law, the COA said. Sudlow was an at-will employee and is not covered under the public policy exception, the only one the parties discussed. The firearms statute does give an employee the right to confer a weapon if it’s kept out of sight; it does not give the right to store a weapon in plain sight. Therefore, Sudlow’s actions were not protected under the statute.

The case is Caterpillar Inc. v William Sudlow, 79A02-1507-CT-801.


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