Tennessee lawmakers pass right-to-sue update to guns-in-parking-lots law

Tennessee state capitol

NASHVILLE -- The state Legislature on Monday passed a bill allowing workers to sue their employers if they are fired for storing guns in cars parked on company lots.

The Senate passed the measure on a 28-5 vote, and the House later followed suit on a 78-14 vote.

The state in 2013 enacted a law to give handgun-carry permit holders the right to store their firearms in vehicles on company lots regardless of their employers' wishes.

But an attorney general's opinion later found that while the law decriminalized the actions of those who ignored posted gun bans on private property, employers could still terminate workers for violating company firearms policies.

The bill's sponsors, Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville and fellow Republican Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville, said the new measure clears up legal confusion over the original law and would place the burden on fired workers to prove that they were fired solely for storing their guns in company lots.

Several Democrats raised objections to the measure, arguing it could cause a flood of litigation against employers and hurt the state's "at-will" employment laws that allow companies to fire workers for any reason.

"Why can't anybody who gets fired in the state ... just use this new cause of action against any business that they work for?" asked House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville.

Todd stated from the well of the House that the measure was not opposed by business groups including the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, but the chamber disputed that characterization after the vote.

"We had issues with the bill," said Bradley Jackson, a vice president of the state chamber. "No matter how you cut it, this creates a protected class and erodes Tennessee as an employment at-will state.

"That's been the hallmark of our economic growth here in Tennessee," he said. "That's crucial to employers here."

Earlier in the day, the Tennessee Chamber sent an email to all members registering its opposition to the bill.

Todd has long been a prominent gun-rights supporter in the House, and is perhaps best known for his 2009 law to allow permit holders to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Todd's own carry permit was suspended for a year after he failed a roadside sobriety test in 2011 and later pleaded guilty to drunken-driving and gun charges. A loaded .38-caliber gun had been found stuffed between the driver's seat and center console.