Mississippi Workplace Shooting Case Heads to Appeals Court

July 1, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal appeals court will decide whether a suit by victims of a July 2003 shooting rampage at a Meridian, Mississippi Lockheed Martin plant will proceed as a worker's compensation or a civil rights case.

The giant defense contractor has asked the US 5 th Circuit Court of Appeals to review a ruling by US District Judge Tom Lee who, in September 2004, threw out a company request to classify the pending litigation as a workers’ compensation action (See Judge Refuses to Limit Mississippi Shooting Claims ), according to an Associated Press news report.

It’s a significant question since a workers’ compensation case would severely curtail any damage awards the victims of the incident might win. The Mississippi worker’s compensation lifetime disability limit was $148,977 in 2003.

The pending court battle concerns the bloody rampage at the plant during which employee Doug Williams killed six co-workers and injured eight others. Police said that Williams, who had worked at the plant for almost 20 years, left a mandatory diversity training class at the plant that makes airplane components and returned with a 12-gauge shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle. After hitting the 14 victims, police said Williams then shot and killed himself.

Jackie Smoke, a Birmingham attorney who represents some of the victims, told the Associated Press that a decision favorable to Lockheed would send a message to employers that there is no need to curtail threats of violence because the amount of money a victim could seek would be limited by the workman’s compensation guidelines.


The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigated the shooting and said Williams created a “racially charged atmosphere” at the plant and allegedly intimidated black workers for years (See EEOC Blasted Lockheed Martin for Racial Hostility Response ). Five of those killed were black while a majority of the injured were white.

The federal lawsuit at issue in the latest company appeal that was filed on behalf of some of the victims contends that Lockheed knew of Williams’ racist views and did virtually nothing. EEOC investigators agreed in their July 2004 report on the case.

“(Lockheed’s) reaction to those threats against African American employees was inadequate and permitted the racially charged atmosphere to grow in intensity, culminating in the shooting of 14 individuals,” the EEOC report asserted.