Medical workers allege Duke, UNC maintained illegal non-poaching agreements
- A lawsuit filed by a former Duke University Health System radiologist claims the institution and the University of North Carolina Health System secretly agreed not to hire each others’ medical professionals or professors, ABC News reports. The federal anti-trust suit claims the agreement unlawfully suppressed employee compensation and restricted employee mobility.
- A federal judge will decide whether to expand the suit to include all skilled medical staff employed at Duke medical school, Duke University Health System, University of North Carolina Health System, or UNC-Chapel Hill medical school between 2012 and 2017. The plaintiff in the Duke case points to a three-year recruitment “courtship” with UNC that resulted finally with no offer of employment. Emails following the decision not to hire outlined an agreement prohibiting lateral movement of faculty between the Duke and UNC, according to ABC News.
- Both UNC and Duke deny the existence of a no-hire agreement. However, the judge has agreed to hear a proposed settlement between the plaintiff and UNC that would include no cash payment but will require the institution to provide documentation and testimony to support monetary damages from Duke.
Federal anti-trust laws prohibit employers from agreeing to limit terms of employment with regard to jobs, benefits, compensation and more in order to keep talent in-house. Whether the agreements are formal or “handshake” understandings, they violate anti-trust laws and can result in civil cases as well as enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
For HR professionals and all hiring authorities, even informal non-poaching agreements should be avoided. As difficult as it is to attract and maintain talent, particularly for highly skilled professionals in a small labor market, the agreements can unfairly restrict an employee’s right to choose their employer, and result in wage-fixing due to reduced competition.
Similar agreements have been found throughout the tech industry, and are likely more common in industries struggling to find talent — notably, the STEM fields.