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Baird accuses recruiter of undermining Hilliard Lyons acquisition via LinkedIn

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Baird is accusing a fired recruiter of a “smear campaign” to undermine its acquisition of Hilliard Lyons, a deal set to close in 2019 and which could boost advisor headcount by 44%, or 380 advisors.

Baird, which points in court filings to a LinkedIn message inviting an unnamed Hilliard Lyons employee to connect, is already engaged in litigation with Jason Kirkland, whom it fired in August.

Kirkland is suing his former employer for allegedly withholding his compensation. Baird filed counterclaims, accusing Kirkland of sharing confidential information, violating a non-solicit agreement and working for his new employer while he was still at the broker-dealer.

Now, Baird accuses Kirkland of violating a confidentiality agreement he signed while employed at Baird by offering Hilliard brokers “a behind the curtain look” based on his experiences, according to court documents the firm filed Dec. 21.

Baird is asking a federal judge to grant it a preliminary injunction to restrict Kirkland from disclosing the firm’s confidential information and disrupting its business relations before the official hearing takes place, according to the motion filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado.

Kirkland’s attorney, however, contends that his client is not doing anything to violate a confidentiality clause.

“They’re asking for an injunction to stop Jason Kirkland from doing things that he’s already not allowed to do,” says Doc Kennedy, Kirkland’s attorney as well as his current employer at AdvisorLaw, a consulting firm specializing in matters like BrokerCheck expungement, employer disputes and recruiting moves.

Baird’s attorney, Michelle Muhleisen, and a spokeswoman at the firm did not respond to requests for comment.

The day the acquisition was announced, Kennedy sent an email to Muhleisen pointing out his client’s exposure to Hilliard Lyons representatives, and how his client could “[speak] truthfully and openly” with them, according to the filing.

Baird claims that since the announcement Kirkland has been trying to contact Hilliard Lyons brokers through LinkedIn.

The firm included in its court filing a screenshot of a message that Kirland sent via LinkedIn to a Hilliard Lyons employee whose name is blacked out. Kirkland says in the 54-word text that he worked at Baird until recently. “I would be glad to share my perspective if you are interested in a behind the curtain look. Moving your book is an important decision. An insider's experiences may be helpful. Call me,” he writes.

The firm claims that “there is no question the purpose of these communications is to interfere with the imminent acquisition and convince the Hilliard advisors not to remain employed by Baird following the acquisition.”

Though it does not name any brokers who actually left due to the solicitation, Baird “believes Kirkland actually induced one or more advisors not to remain employed by Baird and transfer to a competitor.”

But Kennedy says Kirkland has not violated any confidential agreements.

“He tried to talk with some of them to see if he could place them elsewhere,” Kennedy says, adding: “That’s his job.”

Kirkland’s role at AdvisorLaw includes consulting and recruiting brokers to other firms, Kennedy says.

Kirkland is also allowed to share his experience at the firm if he chooses, says Kennedy, who cites his client’s first amendment rights.

“If they wanted to have the protection of a non-compete…. Then they needed a contract with a non-compete clause,” Kennedy says. “They don’t have one.”

The contract did include a confidentiality provision, however, which was attached as an exhibit in the filing. It specifically refers to contact and account information having to do with “Baird clients,” which Kennedy says is a reference to advisors’ investors, information Kirkland did not have access to.

Baird has asked the court for a quick response, saying Kirkland is not only causing the firm harm, but could undermine an important business deal that is in the process of unfolding. The Hilliard Lyons acquisition is expected to close in the second half of 2019.

“Kirkland’s conduct directly threatens to interfere with the Hilliard acquisition and cause substantial economic loss to Baird, as well as loss of goodwill and reputation,” Katie Costigan, chief talent officer at Baird, said in an affidavit attached to the court filing.

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