The chief prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division signaled last week that his unit expects to initiate criminal actions against multiple companies accused of entering unlawful pacts not to hire each other’s employees.  Such action would fulfill earlier promises, by both the Trump and Obama Administrations, to treat employment-related antitrust violations with the same seriousness afforded to more traditional, consumer-based antitrust issues.

The public often thinks of price-fixing and other consumer-focused schemes as “traditional” antitrust violations.  However, it can be similarly unlawful for companies to form agreements that suppress the opportunities of employees. On October 20, 2016, the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission published Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals, cautioning employers that agreements with other companies to limit the wage rates of similar types of workers, or not hire each other’s workers, are unlawful and would be subject to criminal prosecution. Among other things, the Guidance cautions employers on sharing wage information under some circumstances.

Less than one month after the above-referenced guidance was issued, Donald Trump was elected President. Despite the change of Administration, the Antitrust Division has indicated that it fully intends to continue the charge against wage-fixing and no-poaching agreements.

On January 19, 2018, the lead attorney of the Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim, discussed the Division’s position toward no-poaching agreements during a conference hosted by the Antitrust Research Foundation at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. During the presentation, which Law 360 reported later that day, Mr. Delrahim told attendees that the Division would be initiating multiple criminal prosecutions “[i]n the coming couple of months[.]”  Not surprisingly, he did not share the names of any companies that the Division intended to charge in those actions.

The Antitrust Division’s interest in criminal prosecutions represents a continuation from the Obama Administration.  Nevertheless, Mr. Delrahim identified one way in which the Division intended to diverge from the prior Administration. Specifically, the Division intends to move away from consent agreements that implement behavioral remedies, and look more closely at structural remedies such as divestitures.  As Mr. Delrahim explained, behavioral remedies create a need for continuing administrative oversight.  Further, even with the additional oversight they still can be extremely difficult to enforce.  On the other hand, by requiring changes to a company’s corporate structure, the Division can reduce a company’s ability to violate antitrust law, with or without costly monitoring.

On November 9, 2016, we published an article discussing the above-referenced Guidance for Human Resource Professionals.  We will provide further updates as any of the anticipated criminal actions are announced.  Companies seeking to ensure their compliance with employment-based antitrust laws are encouraged to contact a member of Jackson Lewis’s Non-Competes Practice Group for guidance.

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Photo of Clifford R. Atlas Clifford R. Atlas

Clifford Atlas is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is the Co-Leader of the Non-Competes and Protection Against Unfair Competition Practice Group.

Mr. Atlas works extensively with clients in developing and drafting employment contracts…

Clifford Atlas is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is the Co-Leader of the Non-Competes and Protection Against Unfair Competition Practice Group.

Mr. Atlas works extensively with clients in developing and drafting employment contracts and restrictive covenant agreements, and developing programs to best protect clients’ confidential business information. He has significant experience in prosecuting as well as defending actions involving breach of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, employee raiding, misappropriation of confidential information, tortious interference with contract, unfair competition, and related business claims. Mr. Atlas also has assisted clients in employment issues arising from corporate transactions.

Additionally, Mr. Atlas handles all types of employment discrimination, harassment, disability, wrongful discharge, and related employment tort, contract, wage-hour and employee benefits claims. He has tried cases in state and federal courts, and before administrative agencies. Mr. Atlas has argued numerous appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Mr. Atlas joined Jackson Lewis in 1985.

Photo of Colin A. Thakkar Colin A. Thakkar

Colin Thakkar is the Knowledge Management (“KM”) Attorney for Jackson Lewis P.C.’s Non-Competes and Protection Against Unfair Competition Practice Group, and is based in the Jacksonville, Florida, office.

In his role, Mr. Thakkar serves as a subject-matter expert on restrictive covenant agreements and…

Colin Thakkar is the Knowledge Management (“KM”) Attorney for Jackson Lewis P.C.’s Non-Competes and Protection Against Unfair Competition Practice Group, and is based in the Jacksonville, Florida, office.

In his role, Mr. Thakkar serves as a subject-matter expert on restrictive covenant agreements and unfair competition litigation; creates and manages legal and electronic resources and materials to provide innovative client services; serves as a resource for other practice group members; monitors and analyzes regulatory and case law developments; and contributes to the firm’s blogs and legal updates.

Since 2005, Mr. Thakkar has represented and counseled employers nationwide with regard to federal, state, and local employment laws. In addition to representing companies in non-compete, non-solicitation, and other unfair competition lawsuits, he has defended employers against claims alleging discrimination, unpaid wages, ERISA violations, and other employment-related matters. Mr. Thakkar also has significant experience representing and advising employers regarding traditional labor law issues, including labor arbitrations, unfair labor practice charges, and the interpretation of collective bargaining agreements.