UnitedHealth Group, Tenet hit with anti-poaching suit
A former director at an outpatient facility owned by UnitedHealth Group sued the healthcare giant in Chicago federal court on Tuesday, alleging the company engaged in an anti-poaching scheme with its competitors and agreed not to hire each other’s senior employees.
The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, echoes the claims from an ongoing case brought by the government in January. In addition to naming UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Surgical Care Affiliates, the proposed class-action also targets Surgical Partners International, a Tenet Healthcare Corp. affiliate, and Andrew Hayek, the executive vice president and senior advisor to the CEO of Optum. The suit was brought by Allen Spradling, a former director of information technology at Surgical Care Affiliates.
According to the complaint, from at least 2010 to 2017, the two companies agreed not to hire senior-level employees from one another. In December 2015, the suit quotes an email allegedly sent from Hayek to an executive saying, “We should continue to flag [Surgical Partners International] on our ‘do not call’ list to recruiters — is OK if we get an inbound inquiry and the leader has communicated within that they want to leave, but outbound calls should not be occurring.”
Spradling is seeking reimbursement for attorneys fees, treble damages, the costs of the suit and “any and all equitable relief.” The lawsuit looks to represent any director-level or higher worker employed by the two companies from 2010 to 2017. Spradling’s attorney Joseph Saveri said that he believes hundreds of thousands of people could participate in the class-action.
“If you think about this over a course of one’s career, your last job builds on your next job, and if you start to get held up, it has really damaging long-term consequences,” Saveri said. “Both in terms of just straight compensation, as well as career development. So if you put these all together, I think these are very serious allegations.”
The alleged conspiracy stems from a two-count criminal indictment against the companies brought by the Department of Justice in Texas federal court in January.
Under the DOJ’s amnesty program, individuals who alert the government of antitrust violations can receive immunity. The federal government could also have found out about the case through a recent qui tam lawsuit, or whistleblower complaint, between the two companies in Oklahoma.
“How the Department of Justice became aware of this wrongdoing has not been disclosed,” Saveri said.
Tenet Healthcare said it did not comment on pending litigation. UnitedHealth Group did not respond to an interview request.