Class Action Alleges Leaders at Pratt & Whitney, Others Conspired in Decadelong Nonpoaching Agreement

Dec 16, 2021 | Firm News

Details of an alleged nonpoaching agreement became public Dec. 9 when the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint against Mahesh Patel of Glastonbury, a former manager for Pratt & Whitney who was arrested Dec. 7 as part of a federal antitrust investigation.

December 16, 2021
Michael Marciano
Bureau Chief

Connecticut’s Pratt & Whitney and several nearby aerospace engineering firms have been named in a class-action suit alleging representatives of the companies conspired to prevent lateral hires between the organizations in an effort to restrain competition and limit salaries.

Filed on behalf of former Pratt & Whitney employee David Granata of Cranston, Rhode Island, the suit claims an illegal nonpoaching policy at Pratt, a division of Massachusetts-based Raytheon Technologies, and the other companies dates back at least a decade, and involved company executives entering into secretive, unlawful agreements in which employers agreed not to compete for employees, in turn suppressing compensation for potentially more than 1,000 workers.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut in New Haven, with a demand for a jury trial. Named defendants include Pratt & Whitney; QuEST Global Services; Belcan Engineering Group; Cyient Inc.; Parametric Solutions Inc.; and Agilis Engineering Inc., along with several named and unnamed employees of the companies.

Granata is represented by the Milford-based Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg & Knuff, along with Labaton Sucharow of New York City.

Plaintiffs attorney David Slossberg said Wednesday that ahead of discovery and class certification, “it’s very hard to say how much” money is at issue, but more than 1,000 highly skilled workers have potentially been affected since 2011, when the complaint alleges that participation in the nonpoaching agreement began, in violation of antitrust laws outlined in the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act.

Granata worked for QuEST from 2013 to March 2018, primarily on projects for Pratt & Whitney, the lawsuit says. “As a result of defendants’ no-poach agreement, Mr. Granata earned less than he would have absent the alleged agreement,” the complaint states. “Further, because of defendants’ unlawful agreement, he was also denied access to better, higher-paying job opportunities and his ability to change employment was restricted.”

“A nonpoaching agreement is anti-competitive,” Slossberg said. “It not only prohibits the movement of employees from place to place, but I think the real impact is it drives down the labor costs of these companies, to the detriment of these highly skilled workers, and so that’s what the lawsuit is intended to address, and try to obtain some relief for these folks. This is really a classic Section 1 Sherman Act claim.”

According to Labaton Sucharow attorney Gregory Asciolla, “the alleged unlawful conduct is particularly pernicious as it centered on highly skilled employees in the aerospace/defense industry, which plays a vital role in the United States’ national security and in Connecticut’s economic well-being.”

Details of the alleged nonpoaching agreement became public on Dec. 9, when the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed a criminal complaint against Mahesh Patel of Glastonbury, a former manager for Pratt & Whitney who was arrested Dec. 7 as part of a federal antitrust investigation. Patel is accused of “participating in a long-running conspiracy with managers and executives of several outsource engineering suppliers to restrict the hiring and recruiting of engineers and other skilled laborers among their respective companies,” court records indicate. The Justice Department alleged that Patel “enforced this agreement while serving as an intermediary between conspiring suppliers.”

Other individuals named in the complaint include Robert Harvey of Farmington, president of QuEST; Harpreet Wasan of South Glastonbury, vice president of business development at QuEST; Thomas Edwards of New Fairfield, North America president of Cyient; Gary Prus of Jupiter, Florida, chief operating officer of Parametric Solutions; and Frank O’Neill of Jupiter, Florida, president and CEO of Agilis Engineering.

Three “John Does” are also included in the complaint, and Slossberg said additional participants in the alleged conspiracy may be uncovered. “We have reason to believe that there are other participants who we are in the process of attempting to identify who would be appropriate defendants in this action,” he said.

Slossberg also acknowledged that the alleged nonpoaching agreement may have been detrimental to Connecticut’s job market and may have had far-reaching implications. “These are highly skilled employees in the aerospace and defense industry, where it’s really important that you have the best people who move freely and be employed at places of their choice, at a rate that is appropriate for their level of skill. So in that sense you’re talking about that playing a vital role in U.S. national security.”

Pratt & Whitney General Counsel Candace Kronholm’s voice mail was full and not accepting messages this week. Pratt & Whitney executives also could not be reached for comment.