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Class action filed alleging corporate childcare provider uses illegal non-compete

News Abuses of Corporate Power

Seattle, Washington — Yesterday, a former teacher at Bright Horizons, the largest provider of employer-sponsored child care in the country, filed suit in Washington State alleging the company violates Washington’s non-compete law by requiring that families who hire Bright Horizons teachers as their childcare providers within six months of their employment with Bright Horizons pay a penalty of $5,000.

The complaint (available here) alleges that Bright Horizons imposes this requirement not to recover the costs of training or recruitment, which cost much less than $5,000 per worker, but rather to keep workers trapped in their jobs. According to the lawsuit, if Bright Horizons were not violating Washington law, its childcare providers “could be hired by families who would pay less for childcare than their fees to Bright Horizons but who could still reward those caregivers with higher wages. In other words, Bright Horizons’ families could cut out the middleman.” Chelsea Rutter, the plaintiff, seeks to represent a class of Bright Horizons employees in Washington who have been affected by the policy.

Since 2020, Washington law has prohibited employers from using non-compete agreements affecting workers who earn less than $100,000 annually because such restraints rob workers of their bargaining power even when they do not seek out work with a competitor. In the past several years, states around the country have enacted similar protections.

“Even though they charge families so much, Bright Horizons paid me just above minimum wage, and they never treated me the way I deserved based on how much value I provided to families. That’s because they knew that the families—who are the biggest competitors for my labor—couldn’t hire me away,” said Rutter.

Ms. Rutter is represented in the action by Towards Justice, a non-profit legal organization, and Terrell Marshall Law Group, a Seattle-based plaintiffs’ law firm.

“Bright Horizon’s covenant not to compete hurts both childcare workers and families desperate for affordable care. Bright Horizons can pay workers less than they would have to if they were competing fairly. The non-compete helps no one except Bright Horizons’ bottom line,” said David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice.

“Washington law provides robust protections for workers to help address the inherent differences in bargaining power between large corporations and individual employees, and lawsuits like this one are how employees can enforce those protections. Ms. Rutter’s willingness to step forward to represent hundreds of childcare workers in Washington will help all employees in this state by showing corporations that they will be held accountable to the law,” said Elizabeth Adams, a partner at Terrell Marshall.

The case was filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle, WA.