Janeci Suarez-Martinez, a health aide, earned $12.50 an hour caring for a disabled person in North Philadelphia ― physically difficult work that can involve intimate tasks such as feeding, bathing, and assisting an adult with using the toilet.
But when she was willing to stay with a patient who switched to a home-health agency offering more hours of care, she ended up facing a $12,000 claim in court.
The dispute landed Suarez-Martinez, a 32-year-old mother of three who cannot read or speak English, at the center of an increasingly charged national employment-rights debate.
On Jan. 4, she was sued in Philadelphia Municipal Court by her former employer, All American Home Care LLC, which alleged she broke a noncompete agreement by going to work for the new agency.
The next day, the Federal Trade Commission said it wanted to ban noncompetes nationwide, arguing that they are especially harmful to low-wage workers like Suarez-Martinez, because the agreements prevent them from taking higher-paying jobs. The FTC is accepting public comments through April 19.
The proposed changes did not prevent Suarez-Martinez, who came to Philadelphia 13 years ago from Puerto Rico, from getting the letter about the small-claims lawsuit.
“I started getting very anxious. I was really nervous because I wasn’t sure what to do,” said Suarez-Martinez, who speaks Spanish and communicated with The Inquirer through an interpreter.
She said she tried to convince the client to go back to her...
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