3 nurses sue Pennsylvania hospitals over alleged 'no-poach' deal

Three registered nurses have sued Geisinger and Evangelical Community Hospital, alleging the Pennsylvania hospitals had a secret "no-poach agreement" that suppressed healthcare wages in the region, according to court documents.

The nurses' lawsuit, filed Feb. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, claims the agreement was established to prevent the hospitals from recruiting each other's physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, psychologists and other healthcare professionals. The nurses claim the agreement was intended to, and did, reduce competition in the market, keeping wages low for healthcare workers. 

The nurses — Nichole Leib, RN, Kevin Brokenshire, RN, and Diane Weigley, RN — claim that the no-poach agreement was reached and known about at the highest levels of their organizations through secretive verbal exchanges that were later confirmed by emails. 

The lawsuit claims that senior executives at the organizations periodically reaffirmed, monitored and policed the agreement. 

The lawsuit claims the agreement was in place by May 2015, and stayed in place until the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil class action against the two organizations to block Geisinger's partial acquisition of Evangelical Community Hospital. 

In the suit, which the nurses are seeking to make a class action, the nurses said that without the Justice Department's lawsuit they may have never known about the no-poach agreement. 

"Ultimately the no-poach agreement reduced competition for healthcare workers, and as a result, it reduced plaintiffs' job mobility and enabled defendants to pay their employees, including members of the class, less than they would have been paid absent the no-poach agreement," according to the lawsuit. 

Plaintiffs are seeking unspecified treble damages for violations of state and antitrust laws, payment of the cost of the suit and reasonable attorney fees.

In response to the lawsuit, Geisinger sent the following statement to Becker's Hospital Review: "We adamantly disagree with allegations that Geisinger restricted its recruitment for staff in any way. In fact, Geisinger regularly conducts outreach to gauge interest and hires talent locally, regionally and nationally, including those from Evangelical Community Hospital, and provides competitive compensation and benefits. This approach allows us to have the best clinicians and staff to care for our patients. Any claims to the contrary are without merit. 

Geisinger believes strongly that competition is a good thing for our patients, our members, our communities and team members. It helps ensure our organization is doing everything we can to reduce the total cost of care, create better affordability and deliver those benefits to the patient, while retaining and rewarding our staff."

Evangelical Community Hospital told Becker's Hospital Review it cannot comment on any pending litigation.

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