Radiologist sues Duke University over alleged anti-competitive pact with UNC

A radiologist from the Duke University Health System has filed a lawsuit that says Duke and the University of North Carolina have an anti-competition agreement in place to “reduce employee compensation.” This agreement, according to the lawsuit, would be a direct violation of antitrust laws.

Duke and UNC, historic rivals on the basketball court, allegedly have an arrangement that one will not hire employees away from the other unless some sort of promotion for said employee is included in the deal.

Danielle Seaman, MD, is the radiologist bringing the suit forward. An assistant professor in Duke’s department of radiology with a specialty in cardiothoracic imaging, Seaman says she had been courted by UNC since 2012, but was told “lateral moves between Duke and UNC are not permitted” when she applied for an open position at the university this year.

Duke officials have declined to comment, according to the Durham Herald Sun.

Tom Greeson, a former general counsel of the ACR and current partner with Reed Smith LLP in the law firm’s northern Virginia offices, discussed the case with in a phone interview. He said he has no opinion about this particular litigation, but if Seaman’s lawyers can prove an agreement existed between Duke and UNC, it will create challenges for both sides.

Seaman’s lawyers, for instance, would then be expected to prove that the agreement was effective.

“If there is any evidence of an agreement – and of course, that’s going to be a very important question of fact for the judge and the jury in that litigation – the principal legal issue will be if there is any actual effect on competition,” Greeson said.

This could be a challenge, Greeson said, because the defendants could argue that academic radiologists have a fairly straightforward path for moving from one institution to the next.

“There is ordinarily a national market for academic radiology services, so the radiologist at Duke can go to any academic school in the country, and the same is true in respect to radiologists at UNC,” Greeson said.

On the other side of the case, Greeson said that if the court determines an agreement was indeed in place, Duke’s defense team will have to provide “procompetitive justifications,” which would also be a challenge.