5th Circuit upholds dismissal of claims by girlfriend of Lockheed shooter

Published 6:12 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A federal appeals court has dismissed Shirley Price’s claims of emotional distress in the aftermath of her boyfriend’s shooting rampage at the Lockheed-Martin plant in Meridian in 2003.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a Mississippi judge’s ruling that Price’s claim were best addressed through workers’ compensation laws. The 5th Circuit also upheld his dismissal of Price’s claim that she was inappropriately fired from her job.

Price was the girlfriend of Doug Williams.

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On July 8, 2003, Williams, 48, left a meeting at the plant and returned with a shotgun and rifle. He killed six co-workers and injured nine others before committing suicide. It was Mississippi’s deadliest act of workplace violence.

Price and many other Lockheed workers sued over emotional distress and other issues.

Initially, U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee ruled against Lockheed, saying the employees were entitled to sue the company for damages outside of workers’ compensation laws.

In 2003, the 5th Circuit said workers compensation laws governed the workers’ claims. Since then, Lee has applied the 5th Circuit’s ruling to all of the Lockheed cases.

In his 2005 ruling in Price’s case, Lee said the woman was “suing because she witnessed this traumatic event, and not because she was herself violated in any way, other than being in proximity to harm.” Lee said she had no grounds to sue as a bystander.

The 5th Circuit also upheld Lee’s ruling that Price was not illegally fired from job at Lockheed.

According to the court record, two days after the shooting, at a memorial service held for the shooting victims at a church in Meridian, Price disrupted the remarks of then Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith when she stood up and began yelling that Williams was also a victim. Price’s tirade continued until she was led out of the service.

Later, Lockheed received reports and Williams’ daughter testified that at a private service held for Williams, Price made remarks that she would finish what Williams had started, according to the court record.

Lockheed determined that Price’s employment should be terminated because of her improper behavior at the victims’ memorial service and because of concern about disruption at the plant if she were to return to it, court documents showed.

Price argued she was fired in violation of her constitutional rights.

The 5th Circuit also upheld Lee’s ruling that Price was not illegally fired from job at Lockheed.

“Price was an at-will employee and thus she had no social, civil or political right which could have been violated by her termination,” the 5th Circuit said.

Monday’s ruling was issued by a panel of three 5th Circuit judges — Carolyn D. King, W. Eugene Davis and Edith Brown Clement.