On Thursday, a district court judge ruled that the antitrust lawsuit against Duke for an alleged no-hire agreement can be expanded into a class-action suit.
The lawsuit can now cover a total of 5,500 doctors at the Duke University School of Medicine or the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, the Associated Press reported. By becoming a class-action suit, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that all faculty members with an academic appointment at any point from 2012 to the present at either school are represented, and may receive compensation for damages depending on the outcome of the case.
The court appointed Danielle Seaman, who filed the original suit, as class representative and the law firms Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein, LLP and Elliot Morgan Parsonage, P.A. as class counsel, to prosecute the case.
The lawsuit began in May 2015 when Seaman, then-assistant professor of radiology, sued Duke, saying that she had lost a job opportunity due to a no-hire agreement between the University and UNC that she said violated federal antitrust laws.
UNC was originally a co-defendant alongside Duke in the case, but Eagles officially approved a settlement by UNC on Jan. 4 that did not require the school to pay any money. As part of the settlement, UNC did have to commit to never enter into such an agreement in the future and provide testimonies and internal documents to Seaman’s attorneys. As part of the settlement, UNC denied wrongdoing. The faculty from UNC are included in the class action suit.
The lawsuit arose after Seaman expressed interest in a job at UNC and claims she received an email from their chief of cardiothoracic imaging saying that the two schools have agreed to not allow lateral moves of faculty.
“I just received confirmation today from the Dean’s office that lateral moves of faculty between Duke and UNC are not permitted,” the email allegedly states, based on Seaman’s second amended complaint. “There is reasoning for this guideline which was agreed upon between the deans of UNC and Duke a few years back.”
Both universities deny the existence of such an agreement.
As part of Eagles' decision to certify a faculty class in the lawsuit, all faculty physicians at the two medical schools are covered. However, non-faculty physicians, nurses and other skilled medical staff are not included under the class action suit, as Seaman's lawyers had originally wanted.
Eagles contended that such an inclusion would make the lawsuit difficult to manage, and any notion of collusion involving individuals who were not faculty physicians is substantially weaker.
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