Duke radiologist brings class action lawsuit against University

A radiologist employed by Duke has filed a class action lawsuit against the University and Duke University Health System regarding an alleged no-hire agreement with the University of North Carolina.

Dr. Danielle Seaman, an assistant professor of radiology since 2011, claims she was denied a parallel position as an assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine due to an illegal agreement between Duke and UNC prohibiting the lateral hiring of each other’s medical staff and faculty. The suit—filed June 9 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina—contends that the no-hire agreement had the “intended and actual effect” of suppressing competition and employee wages, therefore violating federal and state anti-trust laws.

According to the case file, the agreement prevented employees of each medical school from getting equivalent jobs at the other school—with the only exception being if the faculty or staff member would receive an immediate promotion at the other university. For example, an assistant professor at Duke could not be hired into a similar position at UNC unless promoted to the higher “associate professor” rank, and full “professors” already at the highest rank could not be hired by the other university at all.

The suit claims that the alleged agreement was formed several years ago by Nancy Andrews, dean of the Duke School of Medicine, and William Roper, dean of the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine. It also alleges the involvement of unspecified senior administrators and deans at Duke and unnamed co-conspirators from UNC,

Seaman had been in email communication with UNC’s Chief of Cardiothoracic Imaging beginning in 2011, when she expressed interest in a radiology position at the UNC School of Medicine, and the chief of the division encouraged her to apply, the case file describes. In 2012, Seaman was invited to visit the campus and toured the radiology department at UNC.

When Seaman expressed interest in the assistant professor position again in early 2015, however, the chief responded in an email by saying he had just received confirmation that “lateral moves of faculty between Duke and UNC are not permitted” as per a "guideline” set by the schools’ deans.

In a later email, the chief also described to Seaman the reason the agreement was created—Duke had tried several years ago to recruit the entire bone marrow transplant team from UNC, and UNC was forced to pay them a large retention package to keep them.

In the suit, which cites these email exchanges, the UNC Chief of Cardiothoracic Imaging is unnamed. The current chief is Dr. Paul Molina.

Seaman also states that she received confirmation of the no-hire agreement’s existence from a colleague in the UNC radiology department.

In this antitrust lawsuit, she is being represented by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, the law firm that also prosecuted Google, Inc., Apple, Inc., Intel Corp. and other prominent California tech companies in a high-profile class-action suit. The firm secured preliminary approval of a $415 million settlement with several of the tech companies in March.

The tech case, which began in 2011, found that the companies had reached similar agreements in which no cold calling—or active soliciting—of each other’s employees was allowed, although workers could still apply for jobs at the other companies. Although these antitrust cases are similar, the alleged agreement between Duke and UNC puts stricter limits on their medical employees because lateral movement between the schools would be prohibited.

Seaman has filed the lawsuit with proposed class-action status, therefore filing it on behalf of all faculty members, physicians, nurses and other skilled medical employees who have worked for Duke and UNC from Jan. 1, 2012 to the present. She is seeking an injunction declaring the no-hire agreement illegal and restitution three times what all the employees have lost in the absence of competitive hiring between the institutions.

Representatives from both Duke and UNC declined to comment on pending litigation.


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