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Chicago-McDermott, Will and Emery; Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal; and Jones Day are among the law firms that have been hired by hospitals and health care providers to defend against an antitrust suit brought last month by nurses. The nurses allege that the hospitals and health care providers illegally conspired to hold down their wages in four cities-Chicago; Albany, N.Y.; Memphis, Tenn.; and San Antonio. Suits may be filed in additional cities. So far, claims under the federal Sherman Antitrust Act have been made against the University of Chicago Hospitals, Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corp. of Memphis and Albany Medical Center, among others. If the nurses win the court battle, their lost wages claims could cost the health care institutions as much as $1.22 billion, based on estimates from the plaintiffs. The defendants will seek to blunt the case by arguing that they can legally exchange compensation information under certain circumstances. “The exchange of cost information can be pro-competitive,” said David Marx, an attorney in Chicago with McDermott, representing defendants in Chicago, San Antonio and Albany. The hospital and health care providers’ firms are working on responses to the complaints and preparing for hearings that begin with the Chicago case on Aug. 8. For starters, the defendants will definitely oppose class certification, Marx said. In addition to denying that there was any illegal sharing of information, the defendants will note that any measurement of nurses’ compensation should take into account benefits such as health care insurance and vacation time, among other things, he said. “This case is not just about hourly rates,” Marx said. “Other components of nurses’ compensation will be highly relevant.” Additional firms working for the defendants include Katten Muchin Rosenman in Chicago; Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney of Pittsburgh; and Harris Shelton Hanover Walsh in Memphis. Exchanging data The nurses assert that the health care providers regularly exchanged detailed, nonpublic information during the past four years about what they were paying registered nurses or planned to pay them. The exchange of that information suppressed competition for nurses and thereby reduced wages in violation of antitrust laws, the plaintiffs argue. The nurses are seeking class action status and represent about 56,500 workers in the four cities, said Daniel Small, a partner with Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll in Washington who is representing plaintiffs in all four of the cities. Lawsuits are likely to be filed in additional cities as well, Small said. “We’re actively investigating” the possibility of other suits, he said. The plaintiffs are seeking to recover lost wages and the costs of the litigation. They preliminarily estimate that lost wages range from $1,300 per nurse per year in San Antonio to $14,000 per nurse per year in Memphis, Small said. The estimates are based on cities where the plaintiffs don’t suspect anti-competitive behavior, he said. While the arguments made in each of the lawsuits are similar, the nurses and health care providers named in each case are different, and the nurses aren’t saying that the four conspiracies were linked. The plaintiffs haven’t decided yet whether they will try to consolidate the cases, Small said. There could be some “difficult issues” in making that case given that the conspiracies were separate, he said. Other firms representing the nurses include Vanek, Vickers & Mansini in Chicago; The Furth Firm in San Francisco; Fisher Kanaris in Chicago; and Gustafson Gluek in Minneapolis. The cases are Lisa Reed v. Advocate Healthcare, No. 06cv03337 (N..D. Ill.); Marjory Unger v. Albany Medical Center, No. 06cv00765 (N.D N.Y.); Suzanna Clarke v. Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corp., No. 06cv02377 (W.D. Tenn.); and Marissa Maderazo v. Hospital Corp. of America Inc., No. 06cv00535 (W.D. Texas.).

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