Judge acts in doctor’s lawsuit that claims schools conspired not to compete for medical faculty

Gavel and flag in courtroom
A judge approved a settlement that ends part of a doctor's lawsuit, but the rest of the case will move forward. (Getty/AlexStar)

After hearing arguments Thursday, a federal judge is weighing whether two elite North Carolina universities had an agreement not to compete for medical faculty members.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles will decide whether to expand a former Duke University radiologist’s antitrust lawsuit into a class action case, which could impact thousands of medical professionals, according to the Associated Press.

In a move that settles part of that lawsuit, the judge approved a settlement between radiologist Danielle Seaman and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Seaman filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Duke and UNC had an agreement not to hire each other’s professors if it was a lateral move, which cost her a job at UNC.

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As part of the settlement approved Thursday, UNC agreed that it would not enter into any agreements with other organizations to suppress competition for labor, according to The Herald-Sun. UNC must also cooperate with Seaman’s lawyers as they pursue the lawsuit against Duke University.

Seaman’s lawyers agreed to the settlement, because as a public institution, UNC could invoke constitutional limits on federal lawsuits against states, the AP said. UNC won’t pay any money as part of the settlement and denies it violated the law.

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Eagles heard about three hours of arguments from lawyers in the case yesterday. Seaman’s attorneys say there was a conspiracy between the two neighboring universities that potentially lowered the wages of medical professionals by suppressing competition.

If Eagles expands the case to a class action, thousands of doctors, nurses and employees at Duke University could claim damages. The judge indicated she was inclined to expand the litigation to include about 2,000 Duke medical faculty but exclude nurses and other medical workers, the AP reported.

Both UNC and Duke denied there was a no-hire agreement between top administrators at the universities to prevent lateral transfers, but which didn’t cover promotions.