EMPLOYMENT LAW: Virginia Supreme Court Ruling Opens Up Corporate Managers to Individual Liability in Wrongful Discharge Lawsuits for First Time in Virginia

The full text of the Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision in VanBuren v. Grubb can be found here: http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1120348.pdf

WASHINGTON DC, November 5th 2012 —
The Virginia Supreme Court, on November 1st 2012, issued a decision on whether it recognizes a common law tort claim of wrongful discharge against an individual who was not the plaintiff’s actual employer, such as a supervisor or manager, but who participated in the wrongful firing of the plaintiff.

R. Scott Oswald and Nicholas Woodfield of The Employment Law Group® law firm prepared the amicus briefing for the employee in this case on behalf of the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association and the Virginia Employment Lawyers Association.

The court ruled in the affirmative, stating that “the purpose of the wrongful discharge tort — namely, the deterrence of discharge in violation of public policy — is best served if individual employees in a position of power are held personally liable for their tortuous conduct … employer-only liability would be insufficient to deter wrongful discharges, as this case clearly demonstrates.”

This decision creates a new standard of liability in Virginia, bringing it in line with liability standards in neighboring states such as Maryland and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, states are equally divided on the issue of individual liability in wrongful termination cases.

Mr. Woodfield noted that he and Mr. Oswald “are very pleased that the Supreme Court of Virginia so clearly articulated the important policy reasons for holding individuals, and not just employing companies, responsible for the offending individuals’ bad acts. Not only does this decision fairly apportion responsibility among bad actors, but it creates a disincentive for those few responsible managers who would otherwise see no personal downside to engaging in illegal activity in the workplace. As such it is a victory for us all.”

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