A group of 18 state attorneys general (the “AGs”) recently filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) in advance of a series of hearings centered on changes to antitrust and consumer protection enforcement in the 21st century. The letter identifies four major areas where recent antitrust activity involving labor issues have occurred: (1) horizontal no-poach agreements between employers; (2) vertical no-poach agreements, particularly franchise agreements; (3) non-compete agreements between employers and employees; and (4) mergers impacting labor markets. Although it may reveal the enforcement priorities of its signatories, the letter’s arguments are mostly unsupported by any case law and in some respects are contrary to the Department of Justice’s positions on the matters.
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The Attorneys General of ten states are investigating fast food franchisors for their alleged use of “no poach” provisions in their franchise agreements, according to a press release by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, and as reported by NPR.  In a July 9, 2018 letter, the Attorneys General for New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island requested information from eight fast food companies about their alleged use of such provisions.  The letter states that the Attorneys General “have learned that certain franchise agreements used in our States and the District of Columbia . . . may contain provisions that impact some employees’ ability to obtain higher paying or more attractive positions with a different franchisee.”  In other words, the agreements purportedly prohibit one franchisee of a particular brand from hiring employees of another franchisee of the same brand.  
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This post originally appeared on the Workplace Class Action blog.

Seyfarth Synopsis: There are currently pending at least four class actions claiming that provisions contained in franchise agreements prohibiting the hiring of employees of other intrabrand franchisees without the consent of their employer violate the antitrust laws.  That being said, in 1993 the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a franchisor in a similar “no-hire” case.  It reasoned that due to the control the franchisor exercised over its franchisees, the franchisor and its franchisees were incapable of conspiring in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. While the so-called “single enterprise” defense is potentially available, franchisors should be cognizant that in developing that defense, they may create evidence or admissions that would support a subsequent claim that the franchisors are joint employers of their franchisees’ employees.  In light of the availability of other defenses, franchisor employers should assess whether the joint employer risk is worth accepting in order to pursue the single enterprise defense. 
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This post originally appeared on the Workplace Class Action blog

Seyfarth Synopsis: True to his word, the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has announced the first of a number of anticipated no-poach enforcement actions. While this was a civil proceeding, the Department of Justice has said that in some cases it may treat the conduct as criminal. Many executives and HR professionals are unaware that the antitrust laws apply to the employment marketplace. Thus, if they have not done so already, employers should consider the implementation of compliance programs to make sure that appropriate employees are aware of these developments and risks.
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This post originally appeared on the Workplace Class Action blog

Seyfarth Synopsis: On February 1, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina entered an order granting in part, and denying in part, the plaintiff’s motion for class certification in a no-hire antitrust case entitled Seaman v. Duke University, 1:15-CV-462, at 1-2 (M.D.N.C. Feb. 1, 2018) (A copy of the decision can be found here.) The case was brought against Duke University, Duke University Health System (collectively “Duke”), and various University of North Carolina entities and one of its executives (collectively “UNC”). The complaint alleged that the defendants had entered into an agreement not to hire each other’s medical faculty employees in violation of federal antitrust laws. With some notable exceptions it has been difficult for plaintiffs to achieve class certification in wage suppression cases such as Seaman. The ruling is a “must read” for employers, as the Court’s reasoning and conclusions make it difficult to predict whether this case will be helpful to the plaintiffs’ bar in other cases.

Background To The Case

Seaman, an Assistant Professor of Radiology at Duke, contended that she applied for a position at UNC in 2015. She alleged that she was denied consideration due to an agreement among the Duke and UNC defendants that they would not hire each another’s medical faculty employees unless the hire involved a promotion. Seaman alleged that this agreement not only suppressed the compensation of defendants’ medical faculty members, but also their other skilled medical employees. Thus, Seaman sought to certify a class consisting not only of defendants’ medical faculty members, but also their physicians, nurses, and skilled medical staff. Id. at 1-2.
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Seyfarth Synopsis:  Criminal prosecution of “no-poaching/no-hire” agreements appears imminent.  Employers should investigate their hiring and compensation practices to ensure compliance with recent antitrust pronouncements.

Background

In October 2016, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) under the Obama Administration issued a joint Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals (“HR Guidance,” available here).  Among other things, the HR Guidance announced that so-called “naked” agreements among employers not to recruit employees or not to compete on employee compensation would be considered per se violations of the antitrust laws and prosecuted criminally. 
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Cross Posted from Employment Law Lookout.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On October 20, the DOJ and the FTC jointly issued their Antitrust Guidance for HR Professionals, stating that DOJ intends to pursue employers criminally for alleged wage fixing and no-poaching agreements.  

shutterstock_77814403On October 20, 2016, the DOJ and FTC jointly issued their “Antitrust Guidance for

Emigra Group, LLC v. Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP, et al., No. 07 Civ. 10688 (LAK) (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2009).

In a decision that should be considerable reassurance to employers in general and law firms in particular, a district judge in New York has rejected an antitrust claim brought by a consulting