The Trump administration is seeking to join a pending lawsuit to enforce the prohibition on unlawful “no-poach” agreements between Duke University and the University of North Carolina (UNC), which prohibit the schools from hiring medical faculty of each other.
The Department of Justice filed a motion to intervene in a private antitrust class action, moved by Duke radiologist Danielle Seaman in 2015, and proposed a settlement agreement last month. Under the agreement, Duke is prohibited from entering, maintaining, or enforcing unlawful no-poach agreements for five years.
If the court approves the motion, the Trump administration would have the right to enforce an injunction and certain compliance and reporting requirements against Duke as a part of the settlement. UNC was dropped as a defendant after it turned over the documents to the court.
“Dr. Seaman’s class action challenged alleged anticompetitive conduct occurring at the intersection of two important sectors of the U.S. economy: healthcare and higher education,” Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, said.
“Today’s filings, along with the Statement of Interest we filed in March, make clear that the Antitrust Division will use all of its enforcement and advocacy tools to ensure that labor markets across the economy are free from anticompetitive conduct and that workers receive the benefits of robust competition for their labor.”
The lawsuit, covering 5,500 faculty members at Duke and UNC, was filed by Seaman on June 9, 2015, alleging that the schools violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act by “eliminating competition for faculty, restricting their mobility, and suppressing their compensation.”
Earlier this year, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in the suit to properly address the standard for judging the legality of alleged no-poach agreements under the Sherman Act, and to ensure the application of antitrust laws.
“Permitting the United States to become part of this settlement agreement in this private antitrust case, and thereby to obtain all of the relief and protections it likely would have sought after a lengthy investigation, demonstrates the benefits that can be obtained efficiently for the American worker when public and private enforcement work in tandem,” Delrahim added.
Meanwhile, Duke continues to deny any misconduct and has said that it settled the lawsuit only to save time and costs involved in extending the litigation.
“The university is and has been committed to complying with all relevant laws in recruiting the most talented physicians, scientists, and scholars,” Michael Schoenfeld, a spokesman for the university, told the Associated Press.
“Our agreement with plaintiffs and the Department of Justice to implement certain compliance measures affirms that commitment.”