A recent Seventh Circuit opinion by Judge Easterbrook held that no-poach agreements, absent valid ancillary restraints, can be per se illegal. Per se violations of the antitrust laws are inherently illegal—meaning no defenses or justifications are available. They have traditionally included conduct like horizontal price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation.
This is the first appellate opinion to reach the conclusion that no-poach agreements can be per se violations. As the Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) has spent the past seven years arguing that no-poach agreements are criminal violations of the antitrust laws, the opinion could empower the DOJ to bring more no-poach cases, given that it must establish an antitrust violation is a per se violation for criminal cases. This opinion also fires a warning shot at companies that use no-poach clauses in franchise agreements. Under the principles described in the opinion, many no-poach clauses in that type of agreement may be per se illegal.