Is It Discrimination If You Get Fired For Bringing a Gun to Work?

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Oct 13, 2014

By Eric B. Meyer

Getting fired for bringing a gun to work probably isn’t discrimination. But hey, what do you have to lose by filing the lawsuit anyway, right?

So, I was reading this opinion (Dipigney v. AutoZoners, LLC) from a New Hampshire federal court about an employee who claimed that his firing was discrimination.

Except, the thing is, a customer noticed that the employee was carrying a gun at work — his work being an auto parts store. So, the company investigates. The employee admits to HR that he had a gun at work.

The company has a policy against carrying firearms at work. So, the employee gets fired.

No action against other employees?

Then he sues for national-origin discrimination because, why not, right?

Except, hold up a second — the employee argued that the company had failed to take similar action against two other employees who brought weapons to work.

Not a bad argument, given the circumstances. But, the employee could not establish that these two comparative individuals were similarly situated to him, thus enabling a reasonable person to conclude that his firing took place under circumstances that would give rise to an inference of discrimination.

Here’s what the court had to say about that:

Specifically, he has not shown that those violations of company policy were the subject of customer complaints or were known to Thompson or any other AutoZoners District Manager. … If Thompson knew about the violations of company policy by other employees that Dipigney identifies, and did not discharge the employees involved, that might well be enough to establish the fourth element of Dipigney’s prima facie case. But, it is Dipigney’s burden to establish the requisite similarity between himself and his purported comparators, and he has not done so.”

Policies must be followed uniformly

Even the most obvious policies can create problems for employers if they are not followed uniformly.

Whether it’s a weapons policy, call-out, performance, you name it. If you have the policy, follow it, and apply it evenly to avoid the appearance of bias.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.