A Maine federal judge on Monday refused to dismiss criminal antitrust charges alleging four business managers of home healthcare agencies conspired to restrict workers’ pay and job mobility, notching a win for the US Justice Department in a closely watched prosecution.
US District Judge John Woodcock Jr’s ruling means the Justice Department can head to trial next month in Portland federal court, marking the latest in a series of cases that have tested the reach of criminal antitrust provisions to labor and employment practices.
Woodcock wrote in his order that the indictment, filed in January, “plausibly alleges a per se illegal conspiracy to fix wages and allocate employees.” The four defendants, he wrote, will have a chance to challenge whether there was an agreement and to argue their conduct had a pro-competitive purpose.
Lawyers for the defendants did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Tuesday. A Justice Department spokesman also did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Defense lawyers told the court that none of the defendants ever fixed any wages or followed a “no poach” rule.
Prosecutors have alleged the indicted business managers unlawfully coordinated in 2020 to try to eliminate competition for personal support specialist workers. The government pointed to text messages among defendants to bolster the allegation of a conspiracy to artificially keep wages at a certain level.
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