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A once celebrated, now fired, recruiter sues Baird over compensation

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On Jan. 23, Robert W. Baird offered its recruiter, Jason Kirkland, a certificate of appreciation — including an all-expense paid trip to a resort in Colorado — thanking him for his “many contributions to [its] 2017 experienced advisor recruiting success.” About six months later, the firm flew him out to its headquarters in Milwaukee and fired him.

“I was committed to this firm. I believed [its] story. I bled the Baird blue,” Kirkland says.

Now he is suing the firm, accusing Baird of withholding compensation. He claims he developed a “pipeline of potential recruits worth more than $4 million of future anticipated compensation,” according to his lawsuit.

“They have an agreement with him in writing. This is how much you’ll be paid, how much and when, and unlike other employees, they stopped paying him despite him meeting its obligations under that agreement,” says Kirkland’s lawyer and new employer, Doc Kennedy, CEO of AdvisorLaw.

In his lawsuit filed in Colorado state court, Kirkland alleges a breach of contract for failure to pay commissions, discriminatory or unfair employment practices, and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing among other claims. He’s seeking damages for owed compensation in an amount to be determined at trial, plus additional relief.

A spokeswoman at Baird did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the matter.

Kirkland was part of the regional BD’s recruiting push in recent years, which has seen a number of experienced advisors join Baird from rival firms. So far this year, Baird has recruited more than three dozen brokers and opened six new branch offices, according to previous company statements. The 890-advisor firm’s most recent hires include a mother-son team that managed $125 million while at their former employer, Morgan Stanley.

When Baird hired Kirkland — who worked remotely — it promised to pay him a salary for the first two years plus commissions for placing new recruits at the firm equivalent to 4% of the new hire’s trailing 12-month production, according to a copy of his offer of employment which was filed with other documents in court. The company also agreed to hire two junior recruiters, reporting to Kirkland.

The offer letter further notified Kirkland that it was company policy that his and his immediate family’s brokerage accounts had to be held at Baird. He was also required to agree to a one-year non-solicitation agreement of Baird employees and consultants.

In his lawsuit, Kirkland claims that when Baird dismissed him, it said that his supervisors, Erik Dahlberg and Katie Costigan, had lost confidence in him. Baird also allegedly said that he altered Salesforce notes, removed territory from his recruiting efforts without approval and undermined management by telling fellow employees he intended to resign.

Kirkland tells a different story — he says Baird did it for the money.

“A week before [I was fired, the firm] had me email my projections on start date, offers pending, who was about to get an offer, who was coming on a firm Milwaukee visit, and they could see all of the future commissions that they were about to be out,” he says.

He says that, following his departure, the firm promoted his junior recruiters, but they were earning a salary alone, not commissions.

Kirkland was not aware of any problems with firm employees until early July, he says. At that time, he had a disagreement with a branch manager who had offered him a partial commission on one of his new recruits, as an incentive for Kirkland to put more effort into recruiting at his branch. When all was said and done, the manager wanted the check back, he says. Disagreement ensued, so Kirkland went back to his Salesforce to document his former agreement with the manager. Kirkland says he told the firm he was doing this.

Ultimately, the money was deducted from Kirkland’s next commission. After that, Kirkland told the branch manager he would no longer work with him, out of lack of trust, he says.

Kirkland received a phone call soon after from Costigan, the chief talent officer, he says.

“It was the warmest conversation possible,” Kirkland says. He noted that she told him he was the most vital part of the recruiting process and felt terrible for how things had gone. To make it right, he needed to come to Milwaukee to sort out his compensation, Kirkland said she told him.

He flew out the next day.

In a boardroom, Costigan and executive director Erik Dahlberg told him they had lost all confidence in his abilities, and that no one at the firm liked him any longer, Kirkland says. They were terminating him and he would not receive bonuses on recruits that had not yet joined the firm, Kirkland says.

Baird requested $156,944 from Kirkland, which included the principal amount of a $150,000 promissory note he received when he started the position as well as interest. Only $78,769 would be required due to coming recruiting bonuses, the lawsuit said.

In November, Baird expects to buy back 1,850 shares of stock he purchased under the employee common stock program, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims Kirkland’s pipeline of potential recruits had books of business worth more than $110 billion.

Kirkland now works for Kennedy as executive director at AdvisorLaw. The consulting firm helps advisors with expunging client claims from BrokerCheck records, dispute with former employers, and recruiting moves among other matters, according to its website. The two men have known each other for about a dozen years, according to Kennedy.

Kirkland, meanwhile, wishes he could see the fruits of his labor at Baird.

“I really did give them all that I had … and now I think the thing that hurts the most is they’re about to have a windfall from a recruiting standpoint, and I’m not there to see the rewards,” he says.

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