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DOJ’s Antitrust Division to Intervene In UNC, Duke No-Poach Case

Feb. 7, 2019, 5:02 PM

The Department of Justice’s antitrust division wants a say in a class action alleging that Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conspired to suppress medical school professors’ wages.

The DOJ said in a court notice that it expects to file a statement of interest — used to assert the government’s arguments without being a party to the lawsuit — before March 12.

The suit, filed in 2015 by a Duke University radiologist, claims that senior administrators and deans at Duke and UNC’s medical schools allegedly entered into a pact agreeing not to hire each other’s faculty members. Such agreements, called no-poach contracts, could be an antitrust violation since they can reduce employees’ wages and limit job mobility.

“The United States has a significant interest in filing a statement of interest on these issues because it enforces the federal antitrust laws and has a strong interest in their correct application,” the DOJ said in the notice, filed Feb. 6.

The government’s notice in the UNC-Duke case marks the fourth time in the past month that the DOJ has inserted itself into private no-poach cases. Government attorneys have filed similar notices of intent in fast-food franchise no-poach cases involving franchisees of Carl’s Jr., Auntie Anne’s and Arby’s.

The DOJ has not yet filed a full statement of interest in any of the no-poach cases. Once the DOJ files, its arguments could shape how the court assesses the antitrust claims in each suit, potentially weakening the plaintiffs ability to win on antitrust grounds.

The DOJ says it wants to weigh in on “the proper standard of review” for how the court will assess Duke and UNC’s no-poach contract.

The case is Seaman v. Duke University, Et Al., M.D.N.C., No. 1:15-cv-00462-CCE-JLW, Notice of Intent 2/6/19

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Graham in Washington at vgraham@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Roger Yu at ryu@bloomberglaw.com; Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com