On April 28, 2023, a federal court in Connecticut dismissed the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Antitrust Division’s latest—and largest—criminal anti-poach case brought to trial. After a 15-day jury trial in United States v. Patel—but before the jury could deliberate—U.S. District Judge Victor A. Bolden granted the defendants’ joint motion for acquittal, finding that based on the evidence presented by the prosecutors, no reasonable juror could convict the six accused aerospace and staffing company executives of engaging in criminally anti-competitive behavior.
The acquittal marks the latest trial defeat for the DOJ, which began in 2020 to prosecute similar no-poach and wage-fixing deals under Section 1 of the Sherman Act but has yet to secure a jury conviction on these charges.
The Antitrust Division charged the Patel defendants in December 2021 with engaging in a long-running conspiracy to suppress competition and prevent labor costs from rising by agreeing not to recruit away from one another engineers and other skilled laborers working on aerospace projects. The defendants initially moved to dismiss the indictment, but the court denied that motion on the ground that the DOJ successfully alleged a per se conspiracy to restrict hiring and to allocate (or divide) labor markets to minimize competition—a theory of automatic liability typically reserved for the most obvious anti-competitive conduct. The case then proceeded to a jury trial in March 2023. After the government rested, the district court found that, even assuming defendants had agreed to restrict hiring, the prosecution had failed to establish per se anti-competitive conduct. Specifically, the evidence revealed that “the alleged agreement itself had so many exceptions that it could not be said to meaningfully allocate the labor market” and that “hiring among the relevant companies was commonplace” notwithstanding the agreement. Accordingly, the court granted the executives’ motion for acquittal before the case reached the jury.
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