Geisinger, Evangelical ask court to toss suit alleging 'no-poach' deal

Geisiger and Evangelical Community Hospital asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the Pennsylvania hospitals had a secret "no-poach agreement" that suppressed healthcare wages in the region, according to a joint motion filed May 17. 

Three nurses — Nichole Leib, RN, Kevin Brokenshire, RN, and Diane Weigley, RN — filed the lawsuit Feb. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The nurses claim that a no-poach 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 claim that the no-poach agreement was reached and known about at the highest levels of their organizations through secretive verbal exchanges that emails later confirmed. The lawsuit claims that senior executives at the organizations periodically reaffirmed, monitored and policed the agreement. 

The lawsuit claims that the agreement was in place by May 2015 and stayed in place until the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil class action against the two organizations to block Geisinger's partial acquisition of Evangelical Community Hospital. The U.S. Justice Department has since reached a settlement to resolve an antitrust lawsuit challenging Geisinger's partial acquisition of Evangelical.

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

In their joint motion, the defendants ask Judge Matthew Brann to dismiss the lawsuit or at least to deny making it a class action. 

The two hospitals claim the lawsuit should be dismissed for several reasons, including that the plaintiffs do not have standing to sue because they didn't seek employment at another hospital to get a higher wage; there are no evidentiary allegations that the hospitals agreed not to hire each other's employees; and the complaint hinges on a single alleged email communication. 

Geisinger is based in Danville, Pa., and Evangelical Community Hospital is in Lewisburg, Pa. 

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