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Science Careers Blog

June 5, 2009

Justice Department Investigating Tech Industry Recruiting Practices

The New York Times reports this week that the Justice Department has begun an investigation of recruiting practices by information technology and biotech companies, looking specifically for suspected collusion among the companies that violates antitrust laws. The inquiry is in an early stage, but apparently involves purported agreements among companies not to raid each others payrolls for key staff.

Sources told the Times that Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Genentech received requests from the Justice Department for documents and other information as part of this inquiry; the story notes that receiving these letters does not mean that they are targets of the investigation. The Wall Street Journal says Microsoft and Intel were also contacted. The Justice Department has so far declined comment, but the Journal says Google and Genentech representatives confirmed receiving Justice Department letters.

Hiring technical talent from other companies is a common, continuing practice in the IT and biotech industries. The technology blog Tech Crunch routinely chronicles the staffing raids of one company against another in Silicon Valley. Our own Tooling Up columnist Dave Jensen encourages joining industry committees as a way of networking to discover new opportunities and get yourself better known in your industry.

But a follow-up story in the Times notes that unwritten rules sometimes interrupt this free-for-all. The story quotes former HR managers and contract recruiters who say some companies have hands-off lists when it comes to recruiting, lists that usually include corporate partners and collaborators.

Apparently, there is case law backing up the application of antitrust statutes to hiring practices. In 2001, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of geologists and petroleum engineers who sued Exxon and other oil companies for colluding in hiring decisions that led to suppressed wages. The judge writing the decision: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court.

Hat tip: John Travis, Science magazine


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