A CEO who becomes entangled in human resources functions by terminating an employee in a distant locale could expose himself to personal jurisdiction (and personal liability) there, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals recently held in Urquhart-Bradley v. Mobley, No 19-7716 (D.C. Cir. June 30, 2020).
The message to executives is clear: a termination conversation could count as sufficient contacts for purposes of personal jurisdiction, even if the employee being terminated is in another state and even if the conversation itself was via telephone and not in person. In Urquhart-Bradley, a panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (Srinivasan, Chief Judge, Garland, and Millett, Circuit Judges) joined a list of courts that have refused to apply the “fiduciary shield” doctrine, which provides that a nonresident corporate agent generally is not individually subject to a court’s jurisdiction based on acts undertaken on behalf of the corporation. Where the fiduciary shield does not apply, employers are cautioned to leave termination conversations to HR or in-house counsel to keep executives from being haled into court in another jurisdiction.