Turner v. McDonald's USA LLC, No. 22-2334 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Until recently, under every McDonald’s franchise agreement, the franchise operator promised not to hire any person employed by a different franchise, or by McDonald’s itself, until six months after the last date that person had worked for McDonald’s or another franchise. A related clause barred one franchisee from soliciting another’s employee (anti-poach clauses). In a suit under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, the plaintiffs worked for McDonald’s franchises while these clauses were in force and were unable to take higher-paying offers at other franchises. They contend that the anti-poach clause violated the antitrust laws.
The district court dismissed, rejecting plaintiffs’ “per se” theory, stating that the anti-poach clause is not a “naked” restraint on trade but is ancillary to each franchise agreement—and, as every new restaurant expands output, the restraint was justified. The court deemed the complaint deficient under the Rule of Reason because it does not allege that McDonald’s and its franchises collectively have power in the market for restaurant workers’ labor.
The Seventh Circuit. The complaint alleges a horizontal restraint; market power is not essential to antitrust claims involving naked agreements among competitors. The court noted that there are many potentially complex questions, which cannot be answered by looking at the language of the complaint but require careful economic analysis.