- A Nevada school district’s nursing services contractor pleaded guilty to conspiring with a competitor to allocate employee nurses and fix their wages, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release Thursday.
- A U.S. district court judge ordered VDA — known during the time of the alleged conspiracy as Advantage on Call — to pay a criminal fine of $62,000 as well as $72,000 in restitution to the nurses. DOJ said that VDA had been one of two primary providers of contract nursing services to the Clark County School District between October 2016 and July 2017 when it conspired to suppress and eliminate competition.
- “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that workers receive competitive wages and a fair chance to pursue better work and that criminals who conspire to deprive them of those rights are held accountable,” said Jonathan Kanter, assistant attorney general of DOJ’s antitrust division.
The news marks DOJ’s first-ever guilty plea in a case involving a no-poach agreement between employers. In 2016, the agency issued a document with the Federal Trade Commission signaling to HR professionals that they could face penalties, up to and including prison time, for crafting agreements that constrained competition for the same workers.
Then, in 2018, DOJ filed its first criminal charge alleging that a group of employers had entered an illegal no-poach agreement. Elsewhere, in September, a federal judge revived a no-poach agreement suit brought by employees of a group of Burger King franchisees who alleged that the franchisees agreed not to hire each other’s employees.
Thursday’s announcement “is a key victory in the fight to promote economic liberty for all,” Katherine Van Dyck, senior legal counsel at the nonprofit American Economic Liberties Project, said in a statement published to the organization’s website. “Protecting labor markets is one of the most important tenets of our antitrust laws. By ensuring corporate crime is met with criminal consequences, the Antitrust Division and the courts are finally upholding that ideal.”
But HR industry trade groups have expressed concerns about the federal government’s stance toward no-poach agreements. In August, the Society for Human Resource Management filed an amicus brief in a no-poach case involving a group of Connecticut executives charged by DOJ. The brief focused on cases in which employers utilize multiple staffing firms, which SHRM said “necessarily requires coordination among the staffing firms and the clients if the project is going to be performed efficiently, or perhaps even at all.”