As federal administrative agencies wade further into rulemaking and adjudicative efforts to outlaw noncompetes and restrictive covenants, defendants are beginning to raise preemption arguments in response to state court breach of contract claims on the topic.
A recent case shows defendants are taking things into their own hands and not waiting for the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to conclude its announced rulemaking on the subject or for the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) to rule on the NLRB General Counsel’s stated position that nearly all noncompetes ...
As we wrote almost exactly a year ago – months before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its proposed noncompete rule – the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA made it clear that the FTC does not have the authority to use its rulemaking powers to ban (or otherwise regulate) noncompetition agreements because it does not have “clear congressional authorization” to do so. The Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down the current Administration’s student loan forgiveness plan further confirms that the Supreme Court would likely strike down any noncompete rule promulgated by the FTC under the Major Questions Doctrine. See Biden v. Nebraska, 600 U.S. __ (June 30, 2023).
On June 21, 2023, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis issued a report entitled “New data on non-compete contracts and what they mean for workers” that calls into question the assumptions made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its recent rulemaking efforts.
The report begins by stating what we have been saying for a long time: that “relatively little survey evidence [is] available” about the actual effect of noncompetes on workers. In other words, it is not that there is substantial evidence that noncompetes help workers (although there are studies showing that they can in certain circumstances), but rather that the data is slim and, contrary to what the FTC and the media might lead the public to believe, there is likewise not settled evidence that noncompetes harm workers. As the Minnesota Fed points out, “[t]he recent explosion of public discussion about non-competes has made clear the need for better and more systematic data collection.”
On June 2, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it finalized a consent order with Anchor Glass Container Corp. (“Anchor Glass”).
This consent order follows the FTC’s administrative complaint, filed in March 2023, against Anchor Glass and its controlling owners (the “Respondents”). The FTC’s complaint alleged that Anchor had entered into non-compete agreements with more than 300 employees and that these non-compete agreements were unfair and had the “tendency or likely effect of harming competition, consumers, and workers . . . .”
On May 17, 2023, U.S. Senator Rob Wyden (D-OR) announced the release of a long-awaited report on the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s multi-year investigation into the use of noncompete agreements across the U.S. labor market. In announcing the release, Senator Wyden said that the GAO report “highlights the problems of noncompete agreements – particularly their impact on limiting workers’ fundamental freedom to change jobs,” and pledged to “fight tooth and nail for fair labor laws that protect workers and promote the creation of new businesses in Oregon and nationwide.”
A Ruling and Order issued on April 28, 2023 by the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut in United States v. Patel, et al. ran the government’s losing streak to four failed trials seeking to criminally prosecute alleged wage-fixing and no-poach agreements.
To review, in 2016 the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued Antitrust Guidance for Human Resources Professionals that warned of potential criminal prosecution for so-called “naked” no-poach agreements, i.e., agreements among competing businesses to restrict hiring or compensation of employees, untethered to any legitimate collaborative relationship.
It is no secret that political winds are blowing against the practice of employers requiring certain employees to sign non-competition agreements, as demonstrated most saliently earlier this year when the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) introduced its proposed rule that would ban non-competes nationwide, with retroactive effect. While thousands of comments have been submitted to the FTC regarding that proposed rule (and the comment period is scheduled to close this week), legislators in many states have been busy introducing legislation that would ban or limit the use of non-competes.
FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson, published an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal today in which she announced her resignation from the FTC and explained her reasoning. Readers may recall that Commissioner Wilson was the lone dissenting voice on the FTC’s proposed rule banning noncompetes nationwide.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that it will be hosting a public forum on February 16, 2022, from 12:00-3:00 p.m. ET, to discuss its proposed nationwide noncompete ban. The forum is intended to supplement the FTC’s request for written comments, which as of today have exceeded 10,000. According to the FTC, “[t]he commission will hear from a series of speakers who have been subjected to noncompete restrictions, as well as business owners who have experience with noncompetes.” It is unclear whether any of the “business owners who have experience with ...
Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced legislation on February 1, 2023 entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (the “Act”). This bill has been introduced previously, but never made it out of committee.
As we predicted, earlier today, 100 industry organizations submitted a request to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to extend the comment period for its proposed rule banning noncompetes nationwide by an additional 60 days. According to the letter, “[t]he regulated community should be given sufficient time to assess the potential consequences of the rulemaking and develop insightful comments for the Commission to consider.” The letter further states:
As previously reported, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed a rule on January 5, 2023, that would ban noncompetes nationwide. There are serious questions about the FTC’s authority to promulgate such a rule and many practical reasons why such a sweeping approach is unwarranted—in particular at the federal level. The period for submitting formal comments to the proposed rule lasts 60 days following publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register. The FTC did not file the proposed rule with the Federal Register until January 18, 2023, and it will not be published until January 19, 2023, meaning that the comment period will end on March 20, 2023—not March 10, 2023, as the FTC initially announced. We are told that there will be a formal request to extend the comment period for an additional 60 days, or until May 19, 2023, and that the FTC is likely to grant the request.
Our colleagues Erik W. Weibust, Peter A. Steinmeyer, and Stuart M. Gerson co-authored an article in the Legal Backgrounder, published by the Washington Legal Foundation, titled “After 200+ Years Under State Law, FTC Proposes to Sweep Away All Noncompetes in Unauthorized Federal Power Grab.”
Following is an excerpt:
“Practices that three unelected bureaucrats find distasteful will be labeled with nefarious adjectives and summarily condemned, with little to no evidence of harm to competition. I fear the consequences for our economy, and for the FTC as an institution”
– FTC Commissioner Christine S. Wilson
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) started 2023 with a bang. In addition to issuing a proposed Rule that would ban post-employment noncompetes nationwide, the FTC announced that it had settled two previously undisclosed enforcement actions and entered into proposed consent orders with three employers based on a novel legal theory. According to the Complaints filed in each action, the FTC contends that the defendant employers’ use of broad post-employment non-compete agreements constituted “unfair methods of competition” in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act. Unfortunately, the timing of the announcement of these enforcement actions—one day before announcing the proposed rule—seems intended to discourage employers from challenging the FTC’s authority to issue rules banning, or otherwise regulating, noncompetes, and to intimidate the business community.
Perhaps we were wrong. Or perhaps we were just not thinking creatively enough. After President Biden issued his “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” in which he “encourage[d]” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “consider” exercising its statutory rulemaking authority “to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility,” we assumed that Lina Khan, the 33-year-old Biden-appointed Chair of the FTC (and a vocal opponent of noncompetes), would take the torch and propose a Rule prohibiting, or at the very least severely limiting, the use of noncompetes. And she may still do so.
It is no secret that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been largely unsuccessful in the criminal no poach cases it has brought to trial to date. Its most public loss came with the acquittals earlier this year of DaVita, a dialysis company, and certain of its executives in the District of Colorado. DOJ also lost at trial in another high-profile case in the Eastern District of Texas involving a physical therapy staffing company (although it secured a conviction against a company executive for obstruction of justice). But DOJ has pressed on, claiming victories at the motion to dismiss stage. Indeed, following its recent trial losses, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who leads the DOJ’s antitrust division, had this to say:
As our antitrust colleagues explained recently, on August 26, 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published its “Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2022–2026,” as required under the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010. Readers of this blog will be interested in two small, but important, items in the Strategic Plan related to noncompete agreements.
First, under “Objective 2.1: Identify, investigate, and take actions against anticompetitive mergers and business practices,” the FTC opines that “[a]nticompetitive mergers and business practices harm Americans through higher prices, lower wages, or reduced quality, choice, and innovation. Enforcement of antitrust laws provides substantial benefits to the public by helping to ensure that markets are open and competitive.” It then identifies certain “[s]trategies” that the FTC intends to pursue over the next five years, including “[i]ncreas[ing] use of provisions to improve worker mobility including restricting the use of non-compete provisions.” It’s unclear exactly what provisions it intends to increase its use of, but nonetheless the FTC will be focused on the issue.
Despite the Supreme Court’s recent 6-3 ruling in West Virginia v. EPA that regulatory agencies must have “clear congressional authorization” to make rules pertaining to “major questions” that are of “great political significance” and would affect “a significant portion of the American economy,” and the import of that ruling to the area of noncompete regulation (which we addressed in detail in Law360), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced yesterday that they are teaming up to address certain issues affecting the labor market, including the regulation of noncompetes.
In a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) issued on July 19, 2022, the FTC and NRLB shared their shared view that:
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal last week, the Federal Trade Commission is considering new regulations to prohibit the use of noncompetes and to target their use in individual cases through enforcement actions. Although President Biden issued a vague Executive Order early in his administration that “encourage[d]” the FTC to “consider” exercising its statutory rulemaking authority “to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility,” no concrete action has been taken to date. That is not entirely surprising given that, until last month, the Commission was split 2-2 along partisan lines. What has since changed that may now make federal noncompete regulation a real possibility, however, is the appointment last month of Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC, giving the Democrats a 3-2 majority.
Lina Khan, the 33-year-old Biden-appointed Chair of the FTC, told the Wall Street Journal, “We feel an enormous amount of urgency given how much harm is happening against the workers. This is the type of practice that falls squarely in our wheelhouse.” Other Commissioners disagree. Commissioner Noah Phillips has said the agency doesn’t have legal authority to impose such rules, and Commissioner Christine Wilson said last year it was “premature” to pass a federal rule because many states had taken their own actions to address noncompetes. Indeed, noncompete regulation has been the province of the states for over 200 years.
On July 9, 2021, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, which encourages the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) to employ its statutory rulemaking authority “to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.” Executive Order, Section 5(g). While the language in the Executive Order refers to the “unfair” use of non-compete clauses, the Administration’s explanatory statement makes clear that “the President encourages the FTC to ban or ...
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that a federal grand jury in Texas indicted Neeraj Jindal, the former owner of a physical therapist staffing company, in connection with an illegal wage-fixing conspiracy to depress pay rates for physical therapists (“PTs”) and physical therapist assistants (“PTAs”) who travel to patients’ homes or assisted living facilities in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area. The indictment was something of a landmark for the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), which for years had promised that such ...
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