The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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May 6, 2013

Brothers wrangle over competing companies

SHENANGO VALLEY — A history of bad blood between two brothers involved in the sale of swimming pool chemicals and the servicing of pools has resulted in dueling legal claims.

Richard L. Earnhardt, 42, of Youngstown and his brother, Edward L. “Lee” Earnhardt III, 51, grew up in the family business, Barber’s Chemicals Inc., 950 Main St., Sharpsville, which their parents, Edward L. Jr. and Jeanne L. Earnhardt, bought from Charlie Barber in 1976.

Edward Jr. died in 2003 and Lee Earnhardt bought the company, which also sells to and serves industrial chemical users and water and wastewater plants.

Richard Earnhardt, who had left the company in 2000 “after being physically assaulted by Lee Earnhardt,” rejoined it in 2004, Richard Earnhardt said.

When the brothers feuded over money, Richard Earnhardt left the company in 2005 and started PA Pool Service, a pool servicing and maintenance company. He built the company with his wife, Deborah, and Thomas Siar of Pulaski.

In 2011, Richard Earnhardt was approached by a national chemical seller and offered a job to manage a regional office and directly compete with Barber’s Chemicals in the sale of industrial chemicals, he said.

Richard Earnhardt said he approached his brother about repairing their relationship and joining their companies rather than directly competing.

The brothers agreed on an asset purchase sale of PA Pool Service to Barber’s, which resulted in 45 to 50 pool service contracts transferring to Barber’s, which had only two such contracts.

Lee Earnhardt hired his brother and Siar but reneged on a promise to hire Deborah Earnhardt, and the relationship again soured, Richard Earnhardt said.

Richard Earnhardt claimed he was “constructively discharged” by Lee Earnhardt in January when Lee Earnhardt stopped paying him.

Lee Earnhardt said his brother “quit his job without notice.”

Richard Earnhardt started a new company called PA Pool Service, based at 389 Lyle Drive, Hermitage, but said it is “a different legal entity” from the original PA Pool Service.

Lee Earnhardt said the new PA Pool Service is directly competing with Barber’s in violation of the asset purchase agreement with the original PA Pool Service and Richard Earnhardt’s employment contract, Barber’s said.

Barber’s Chemicals initiated legal action with a suit against Richard Earnhardt, Siar and PA Pool Service, alleging breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets.

The defendants denied the allegations in their answer and filed a counterclaim alleging breach of contract.

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