Hansen v. America Online, Inc.
96 P.3d 950 (Utah 2004)

Facts:
Three AOL employees were fired after a security camera recorded them with guns in the company parking lot. They planned to go to a gun range together.

  • AOL had a company policy prohibiting guns on the property, and the employees were well aware.
  • They then filed this lawsuit for wrongful termination, arguing that their possession of a firearm was protected by a clear and substantial public policy.

History:
The trial court granted AOL’s motion for summary judgment.

Issue:
Whether the right to keep and bear arms in Utah is a public policy which is so clear and substantial as to supersede an employer’s attempt to restrict weapons in the workplace by contract.

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • The analysis of whether the public policy exception applies to a particular legal right or privilege will frequently require a balancing of competing legitimate interests: the interests of the employer to regulate the workplace environment to promote productivity, security, and similar lawful business objectives, and the interests of the employees to maximize access to their statutory and constitutional rights within the workplace.
  • Here, the court read the language of Utah’s Uniform Firearm Laws to indicate that the legislature purposefully declined to give the right to keep and bear arms absolute preeminence over the right to regulate one’s own private property.
    • Thus, the court stressed the importance of the workplace being private property and weighed that factor heavily in ultimately ruling in favor of AOL.

Rule: The analysis of whether the public policy exception applies to a particular legal right or privilege requires balancing the objectives of the employer such as workplace productivity and safety and against the interests of employees to maximize access to their statutory and constitutional rights within the workplace.