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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel awarded a former H&R Block Financial Advisors, Inc. executive $3.96 million in a legal dispute about the executive’s refusal to sign a non-compete agreement. The Feb. 20 award, against the Detroit investment and brokerage subsidiary of tax preparation giant H&R Block Inc., includes $3.01 million in compensatory damages, $466,565 in interest and $481,910 in attorneys’ fees. Atlanta-based Page Perry represented Thomas P. Fitzgerald, who was formerly H&R Block Financials executive vice president and chief operating officer. Fitzgerald v. H&R Block Financial Advisors, Inc., FINRA Dispute Resolution Arbitration, No. 05-02411. In his complaint to FINRA, Fitzgerald claimed the company refused to pay certain compensation and severance benefits it owed him by contract because he declined to sign a two-year non-compete agreement. Companies and employees usually agree on non-compete terms that would kick in at the termination of the relationship as part of the hiring process, said Steve Parker at Page Perry. In this case, H&R Block Financial attempted to get Fitzgerald to sign the agreement during his employment, but he worked for the company for an additional two-and-a-half years without signing it, Parker said. In situations where there is no non-compete agreement in place, companies usually offer additional incentive to sign such a deal, Parker added. “H&R Block was trying to enforce a provision that they never got Fitzgerald to agree to,” Parker said. “Our argument was he hadn’t signed it, but even if he did it would have been overly broad under Michigan law.” H&R Block spokeswoman Beth Strauss declined to comment on the award. “We do not comment as a matter of policy on matters regarding former associates,” Strauss said.

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