A chain of surgery centers owned by UnitedHealthcare was indicted by a federal grand jury for agreeing with competitors not to poach each other’s top talent.
According to the Department of Justice, Surgical Care Affiliates reportedly violated antitrust law by striking agreements with healthcare companies in Texas and in Colorado agreeing not to solicit each other’s senior-level employees. These agreements continued through at least 2017.
Surgical Care Affiliates was acquired by OptumCare in 2017, a network of physicians owned by UnitedHealth Group. The company owns more than 230 ambulatory surgery centers and 8,500 physicians, according to its website.
For example, recruiters were instructed not to reach out proactively to competitors’ high-level employees, according to court documents. For senior-level employees to be considered as a candidate at one of the other companies, they had to notify their current boss first that they were seeking a new job.
In an emailed statement, Elizabeth Castro, a spokesperson for Surgical Care Affiliates, said that the matter involves alleged conduct seven years before UnitedHealth Group acquired the company.
“The position taken by the government in this matter represents a novel application of the antitrust laws as they relate to employee recruitment, for which there is no precedent or foundation,” she wrote in an email. “SCA disagrees with the government’s position, and will vigorously defend itself against these unjustified allegations.”
The indictment was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. The investigation is still ongoing.
“The charges demonstrate the FBI’s commitment to ensuring a free market and protecting opportunities for American workers,” Steven M. D’Antuono, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said in a news release. “The FBI will continue to work with our partners to root out this type of illegal activity and deter employer collusion that harms the American people and workers.”
Photo credit: Mykola Velychko, Getty Images