This case on behalf of non-medical faculty follows Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP’s successful similar action against Duke on behalf of medical faculty that led to a $54.5 million settlement in 2019.
May 27, 2020, Durham, North Carolina—(BUSINESSWIRE)—Lieff Cabraser, Edelstein & Payne, and Elliot Morgan Parsonage announce the filing of a class action labor antitrust “no-poach” lawsuit against Duke University on behalf of Lucia Binotti, a Professor at UNC, and a proposed class of non-medical faculty at Duke and UNC, from 2001 through February 5, 2018.
As set forth in the Complaint, the class action challenges an alleged illegal understanding between Duke and UNC to suppress competition for each other’s faculty. The illegal agreement covered all faculty across the two universities.
The complaint alleges a secretive understanding dating at least back to 1974, and which was reaffirmed and policed by senior administrators of both institutions throughout the subsequent decades. For example, the complaint quotes the minutes of a 2001 Duke Dean’s Cabinet Meeting attended by senior administrators, including former President of Duke Nannerl Keohane, where the first item of business was “Agreements Between Duke/UNC Regarding Recruiting.” The minutes stated that “[t]here has been a casual understanding between Duke and UNC that no recruiting would take place between the two institutions.”
The express purpose of the no-poach agreement was to suppress the pay of Duke and UNC faculty. According to the complaint, in a 1995 memo, former Dean of Duke’s School of Business, Thomas Keller, asked President Keohane to ask UNC’s Chancellor to “abide by our inter-institutional agreements of not aggressively seeking faculty and staff from the other institution which basically has the end result of increasing salaries at both institutions….”
The no-poach agreement continued until February 5, 2018, the effective date of a settlement reached between a class of medical faculty and UNC, the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, the University of North Carolina Health Care System, and Dr. William L. Roper, in a previous lawsuit called Seaman v. Duke University, et al., 15- CV-462-CCE-JLW (M.D.N.C.). In that settlement, UNC agreed to a Consent Decree prohibiting it from participating in anything like the no-poach agreement with Duke, and requiring it to implement a variety of safeguards to ensure compliance. That Consent Decree was buttressed by a second settlement between the medical faculty class and Duke and Duke University Health System, whereby Duke also agreed not to participate in anything like the no-poach agreement, and to undertake similar steps to ensure compliance. The Duke settlement included a robust role for the United States Department of Justice to ensure that the no-poach agreement ended and would not be reinstated.
The Duke settlement in the Seaman case released claims of faculty with an academic appointment at the Duke or UNC Schools of Medicine, who were employed by either institution from January 1, 2012 through June 4, 2019. The Seaman litigation pursued claims of a class of medical faculty. In the course of litigation in that case, evidence of a much wider understanding between Duke and UNC came to light, and was made public for the first time on August 25, 2017, when filings related to class certification were added to the public docket.
The Duke and UNC settlements did not release the claims of non-medical faculty in this action against Duke. This new action seeks damages on behalf of non-medical faculty at Duke and UNC faculty whose pay and job opportunities were harmed as a result of the illegal agreement. The class action alleges that Duke and UNC’s no-poach agreement restrained trade and was unlawful under federal and North Carolina law. Plaintiff Ms. Binotti and the proposed class seek damages for violations of: Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1, and North Carolina General Statutes §§ 75-1 and 75-2.
Dean M. Harvey
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
275 Battery Street, Suite 2900
San Francisco, CA 94111