This week, a federal court in Illinois denied class certification in Reed v. Advocate Health Care, a large antitrust case brought by nurses against their hospital employers. In contrast to the typical conspiracy allegation that several companies fixed the prices at which products are sold, in this case the nurses alleged that hospitals conspired to fix the wages that they would pay to their workers. Allegations of buyer-side conspiracies are not common, and the case underscores the difficulty of getting a class action certified where the claimants are employees.

The plaintiffs, a purported class of approximately 19,000 registered nurses, claimed that a group of five Chicago health care systems improperly exchanged salary information through employer surveys and conspired to depress the base hourly wages paid to registered nurses. The plaintiffs moved to certify a class seeking money damages under Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires that “the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” The court found that the plaintiffs failed to show that a reliable method for demonstrating injury or a reliable formula for calculating damages could be devised. The court explained that, as a result, “many thousands of individual inquiries will be required, which could not manageably be accomplished in a class proceeding.”

Reed is one of five similar actions pending in cities around the country. Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP represents Children’s Memorial Hospital in the case. (Reed v. Advocate Health Care, No. 06-3337 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2009))