Physicians sue Mission over noncompetes

Two North Carolina physicians who have accepted new roles within UNC Health Care's Pardee system are suing Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers, alleging they were "threatened" with noncompete legal action, the Asheville Citizen Times reported Nov 29.

Marian Taylor, MD, and Lillia LaPlace, MD, filed the lawsuit Nov. 22 in North Carolina federal court. Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers, a healthcare organization with primary practice in Asheville, N.C., is the defendant in the case. Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers has a location at Mission Hospital, which is part of Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare.

The lawsuit, which was accessed by Becker's, states that the cardiologists have both accepted positions at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, N.C., with their employment scheduled to begin in January.

In October, the physicians provided 90 days' notice of resignation to Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers, the lawsuit reads, and the notices were further communicated through certified letters from counsel that month.

However, Drs. Taylor and LaPlace say they were told they have noncompete agreements that prohibit them from engaging in their future employment and were "threatened" with legal action if they do so.

According to the lawsuit, Dr. LaPlace had a noncompete agreement with Mission Medical Associates, and her employment with that employer terminated in 2019 after HCA purchased the assets of Mission Medical Associates. The lawsuit states that the noncompete agreement expired, and Dr. LaPlace never signed a noncompete agreement with Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers.

"Upon automatic renewal of the LaPlace Agreement on or about Dec. 16, 2019, MMA did not provide to LaPlace any consideration in exchange for the LaPlace Non-Compete or for any restrictive covenant, and neither did [Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers]," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit adds that the agreement will renew again in December, but Dr. LaPlace "does not have any intention of accepting from [Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers] any consideration in exchange for any restrictive covenant."

Dr. Taylor entered into an employment agreement with Mission Health Community Multispecialty Providers that contains a purported noncompete provision, according to the lawsuit. However, the lawsuit states that the provision "is invalid and unenforceable," in part because it "is unlimited in terms of the activities it purports to restrict, forbidding Taylor from having any affiliation with a … competitor in 18 counties other than as a consumer of healthcare services."

The physicians are asking the court to declare the noncompete agreements invalid.

Mission Health declined Becker's request for comment Nov. 29.

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