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UnitedHealth Hires Legal Chief as Pandemic Disrupts Business (1)

Nov. 20, 2020, 10:49 PM; Updated: Nov. 20, 2020, 11:33 PM

UnitedHealth Group Inc. announced Friday its hire of Matthew Friedrich as chief legal officer, a role he will assume Jan. 11, as the managed health care and insurance company copes with the ongoing fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Friedrich, 54, is a former partner at Boies Schiller Flexner and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer who has spent the past three years as general counsel and chief corporate affairs officer at Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., an information technology services provider and large federal government contractor.

He will succeed retiring UnitedHealth legal chief Marianne Short, 69, the first female managing partner at Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis. Short stepped down from the law firm in 2013 to take over as UnitedHealth’s top lawyer, replacing Richard Baer, now chief legal officer at Airbnb Inc.

Short didn’t respond to a request for comment about her decision to retire from UnitedHealth, where she will remain a strategic adviser to the insurer through 2023.

UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann called Short a “consummate professional, always bringing cogent legal expertise, unparalleled strategic insights, uncompromising integrity, and inspirational leadership,” in a statement announcing her retirement.

Short was one of UnitedHealth’s highest-paid executives and one of the top compensated business leaders in Minnesota. Bloomberg data shows that Short owns more than $45 million in UnitedHealth stock. In August, she sold off nearly $7.1 million in company stock, per securities filings.

UnitedHealth paid nearly $7 million in total compensation to Short in 2019, according to a proxy statement filed by the insurer for that year. UnitedHealth’s stock price, which was trading at $335 per share Friday, has been buoyed this year by reduced medical costs stemming from a postponement of elective surgeries due to Covid-19, as well as increased demand for health insurance services.

Data experts from UnitedHealth are helping drug company Johnson & Johnson accelerate its recruitment of 60,000 participants for a Covid-19 vaccine trial. UnitedHealth has also teamed up with Microsoft Corp. on a return-to-work program for employees seeking safer workplace environments.

UnitedHealth still faces a variety of legal entanglements amid the pandemic, including a large litigation docket that includes lawsuits filed by out-of-network emergency room doctors in New York and aggrieved Medicare supplement policy holders in California. The Minnetonka, Minn.-based insurer’s UnitedHealthcare subsidiary hired Fox Rothschild partner Heidi Fisher in May as head of litigation.

New Regime

Friedrich, UnitedHealth’s new legal chief, is no stranger to thorny legal issues.

He started his career as a federal prosecutor and spent more than 13 years at the Justice Department, where Friedrich became one of several prominent litigators working on a task force investigating wrongdoing at now-defunct Enron Corp. He served as deputy chief of staff to former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In 2008, Friedrich was appointed acting assistant attorney general of the criminal division, a role that saw him oversee the controversial prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). A federal judge dismissed in 2009 a criminal conviction of Stevens, who died in a plane crash a year later.

Upon leaving public service in 2009, Friedrich joined Boies Schiller in Washington, where he spent four years before moving to Freshfields. In 2014, Chevron Corp. hired Friedrich as chief corporate counsel, a role he would hold for three years before taking over the top in-house legal role at Cognizant.

At Cognizant, Friedrich inherited leadership of a corporate law department reeling from a massive bribery scandal, one that included its former chief legal officer, Steven Schwartz. In April, a Delaware judge ordered Cognizant to pay nearly $2.7 million in legal fees for Schwartz, who is one of four former company executives facing criminal charges for violating the Foreign Corruption Practices Act.

This year Cognizant has bolstered its in-house legal and compliance expertise by hiring Claudius Sokenu, a former partner at three large law firms, as deputy general counsel and global head of litigation, labor and employment, and operations. The company also recruited Linda Regis-Hallinan, a litigator at Cozen O’Connor, as an associate director of ethics and compliance in May.

Friedrich wasn’t one of the top five highest-paid executives at Cognizant in 2019, but a proxy statement filed by the company in 2018 shows he was given a nearly $7 million pay package—including $5.5 million in stock awards—when he was hired the previous year. Bloomberg data shows that Friedrich currently owns nearly $192,000 in Cognizant stock after having sold off about $190,000 in stock so far this year.

A Cognizant spokeswoman told Bloomberg Law the company will name an interim general counsel as it considers internal and external candidates to replace Friedrich, who will stay on for another month to assist with the transition of his duties.

(Clarifies Heidi Fisher's title in ninth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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