Federal court finds for worker fired by company after keeping gun in vehicle

A federal appeals court last week sided with a power company worker who had been terminated after a gun was found in his personal vehicle at work.

In 2016, long-time Ameren Illinois company employee Bryan Knox consented to a search of his vehicle in a company lot that yielded a firearm. Terminated under Ameren’s Workplace Violence policy, his union appealed the firing and an arbitrator determined that he had been wrongfully dismissed because of protections offered by state law for guns in personal vehicles. While a District Court overturned the arbitration results after Ameren went to court on the matter, a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit said last Friday that the law was, in fact, on Knox’s side.

The 13-page opinion by U.S. Judge Michael Stephen Kanne for the unanimous panel said that external law such as the Illinois Concealed Carry Act trumps the bargaining agreement between Knox’s union– the IBEW– and Ameren, making the decision clear-cut when it came to labor law. Kanne, appointed to the federal bench in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan, however, maintained that the right to keep and bear arms was not expressly part of the arbitration.

“We stress that although the original dispute involved rules regulating the carrying of firearms, today’s dispute deals solely with the law of labor arbitration,” said Kanne. “Neither party has raised any claim under the Second Amendment, and we express no opinion regarding the Concealed Carry Act or internal corporate policies regarding weapons.”

According to court documents, Knox was first hired by Ameren Illinois, a subsidiary of the $25 billion Ameren power and electric corporation, in 1998 rising to a lead a crew by 2015. Three days after he got into what was described as a “series of heated arguments” with his supervisor over scheduling issues, company officials confronted Knox, who was known to by a gun owner and carry concealed weapons, about the possibility of guns in his personal vehicle on Ameren property. After giving his consent to a search by a deputy sheriff of his vehicle, a gun was found in his truck and three weeks later he was fired for violating company policy which prohibits the unauthorized possession of weapons on Ameren property.

In the resulting binding arbitration, an arbitrator agreed that, while Knox could have been disciplined over the arguments, Ameren did not have just cause to terminate him, pointing to the state law which protects the possession of firearms in private vehicles.

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