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THE LATEST: FTC Settles Civil Complaint for Wage-Fixing

A recent settlement shows that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will use its enforcement authority to target employer collusion in the labor market.

WHAT HAPPENED
  • The FTC brought a complaint against a medical staffing agency, Your Therapy Source, LLC, and the owner of a competing staffing agency, Integrity Home Therapy, for allegedly agreeing to reduce the rates they would pay to their staff. Simultaneously, the FTC settled the case with a consent order that forbids the parties from any future attempt to exchange pay information or to agree on the wages to be paid to their staffs.
  • This was the first FTC wage-fixing enforcement action since the FTC and US Department of Justice (DOJ) issued their joint Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals in October 2016. That guidance stated that naked wage-fixing and no-poach agreements—e.g., agreements separate from or not reasonably necessary to a larger legitimate collaboration between the employers—are per se illegal under the Sherman Act.
  • The respondents in the Your Therapy Source case are staffing agencies that allegedly provided therapists such as physical therapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists to home health agencies on a contract basis. The respondents were responsible for recruiting the therapists and paying them a “pay rate” per visit or per patient.
  • According to the complaint, the alleged unlawful agreement began when one home health agency unilaterally notified Integrity that it was going to reduce the “bill rates” that it paid Integrity for its therapists, thus cutting into Integrity’s profit margins. Integrity’s owner then reached out through one of his therapists to the owner of Your Therapy Source and the two exchanged information about their respective rates paid to therapists. The two firms then reached an agreement via text message to reduce the rates they paid therapists.
  • Once the respondents had reached the agreement to reduce therapists’ pay, Integrity’s owner allegedly reached out via text to four other competing therapy-staffing agencies to solicit their participation in the agreement.
  • The FTC’s complaint alleged that this conduct violated Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts and practices.
WHAT THIS MEANS
  • Wage-fixing cases have been notable in the health care industry, with prior DOJ enforcement against a hospital buying group and several class actions against health care providers in the 2000s that alleged the fixing of nurses’ pay.
  • Companies should strictly avoid colluding with other firms on wages, salaries, fringe benefits or other remuneration paid to workers. Companies should also exercise extreme caution in information exchanges regarding wages and benefits, which can lead to improper agreements or result in independent antitrust liability if not properly supervised.
  • Firms should be mindful of the DOJ/FTC’s joint guidance on information sharing in the health care industry (see link at p. 50), which also provides a useful template for how the US antitrust agencies will analyze information sharing more generally. The joint [...]

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Criminalization of Antitrust Law in Europe: Greek Court Imposes Criminal Sanctions on Managers in Cartel Case

by Philipp Werner

Following a 2007 cartel decision of the Greek competition authority imposing a total fine of EUR 48.3m on seven companies for information sharing, price fixing and retail price maintenance, a Greek court handed down a criminal judgment yesterday (12 April 2011), imposing fines of 9,000 euros on each of the three managers of one of the firms. The case was brought by the public prosecutor.

While the amount of the fines is relatively low, this appears to be the first such criminal conviction in Greece. It shows that the criminalisation of antitrust laws in Europe gains ground.

The Greek law applicable at the time of the infringement made provision only for pecuniary sanction but has changed since and now includes the possibility of prison sentences.




Coastal Water Freight Transportation Company Pleads Guilty and Pays $45 Million Fine for Price-Fixing

by Nicole L. Castle

Today the Department of Justice announced that Horizon Lines LLC agreed to plead guilty and pay a $45 million fine for its involvement in price fixing coastal water freight services between the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.  This plea is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing and bid rigging in the coastal water freight transportation industry.  As a result of the investigation, five former executives have been charged and sentenced to serve prison time.  
 

For additional information, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/atr/public/press_releases/2011/267605.htm




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