Federal lawsuit: Duke, UNC agreed not to hire each other's physicians

Arguments are expected to begin Thursday in a federal lawsuit brought by a radiologist who claims North Carolina's two largest academic medical centers agreed not to hire each other's faculty.

A former Duke University radiology professor, Danielle Seaman, MD, filed the antitrust lawsuit in 2015. She alleges the University of North Carolina's chief of cardiothoracic imaging told her she was passed over for a job as a radiology professor at UNC due to an agreement between the two medical schools not to hire each other's faculty.

"The intended and actual effect of this agreement is to suppress employee compensation, and to impose unlawful restrictions on employee mobility," according to Dr. Seaman's amended complaint.

According to the amended complaint, the defendants agreed the only exception to their no-hire agreement would be for faculty who were granted a promotion simultaneous to their hiring. "Under the agreement entered into between defendants and their co-conspirators, an assistant professor at Duke cannot be hired by UNC unless she is hired into a position at the associate professor rank or higher, and vice versa," states the amended complaint. The highest faculty rank at both UNC and Duke is professor; therefore, there is no possibility for promotion above that rank.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles will hear arguments on whether the lawsuit should include all skilled medical workers employed between 2012 and 2017 at Duke's medical school; Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Health System; UNC-Chapel Hill's medical school; and UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill.

The judge will also consider a proposed settlement between UNC and Dr. Seaman. Under the settlement, UNC would promise not to participate in any unlawful restraints on competition and cooperate by providing witnesses, documents and data in the ongoing lawsuit against Duke's medical school and Duke University Health System.

Both Duke and UNC deny the existence of the no-hire agreement.

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