Antitrust & Intellectual Property

Duke/UNC “No-Poach” Agreement

On May 27, 2020, Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel filed a complaint against Duke University challenging a conspiracy between Duke and the University of North Carolina whereby they two schools agreed not to compete against each other for faculty. The express purpose of this conspiracy was to suppress faculty pay.

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….”

This case follows a prior case Lieff Cabraser successfully litigated with respect to Duke and UNC medical faculty. That case led to a certified class of all doctors of the two schools with an academic appointment, and a settlement of $54.5 million. In the course of discovery in that case, evidence came to light demonstrating that the no-poach conspiracy extended beyond the medical faculty to include all faculty of the two schools. The new case seeks to recover damages for the non-medical faculty who were not included in the first case.

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If you are a faculty or staff worker and you think you may have been affected by the conduct described above, we welcome the opportunity to provide you information on your legal rights. We will review your claim for free and with no obligation on your part.

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