Thousands of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University professors are getting checks from Duke as part of a $19 million settlement after a class-action lawsuit alleged the schools colluded on hiring decisions.
The lawsuit, filed by a UNC-CH professor, alleged that non-medical faculty were paid less because Duke and UNC had a “no-poach understanding” that violated state and federal anti-trust laws.
The plaintiffs accused the schools of agreeing not to hire each other’s faculty in order to “suppress the pay of Duke and UNC faculty,” according to the initial complaint.
Duke, which settled the suit in August without admitting fault, confirmed the settlement but officials did not comment on the case.
In an email, Dean Harvey, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs, confirmed that the terms of the settlement posted online were accurate. He declined to comment further on the lawsuit or the settlement.
Allegations of the lawsuit
This lawsuit is essentially an extension of a case in 2018, in which medical school professors at Duke and UNC levied these allegations against the two universities. In 2019, the university and the Duke University Health System agreed to pay $54.5 million to settle the Seaman v. Duke case, the Duke Chronicle reported.
Lucia Binotti, a Spanish professor who has worked at UNC-CH for more than 30 years, was questioning how some of her own professional opportunities had played out when a colleague mentioned that it sounded strangely similar to the Seaman case.
Binotti reached out to the lawyers in that case and filed this suit in May 2020. She sought damages for herself and other non-medical Duke and UNC-CH faculty who weren’t covered by the previous settlement.
Her complaint argues that the prestige and close proximity of the two universities would lead to natural competition to recruit qualified candidates. However, this alleged secret agreement limits that competition and therefore limits pay for faculty, according to the complaint.
“The biggest problem is that our salaries are compressed in many different ways,” Binotti said in an interview with The News & Observer.
That secret non-poaching agreement was one the strategies to keep salaries low, she said, and now it can’t be used.
“It seemed worth fighting for so that many colleagues in my situation in the future won’t have to find themselves in this very compressed situation, in which our salaries are well below the market rate,” Binotti said.
How much will professors get paid?
More than 15,700 current and former faculty members at Duke and UNC-CH were eligible for these payments, according to court documents.
The $19 million doesn’t cover the amount of compounded damages of this alleged agreement over the years, Binotti said. But at least professors have “received a tiny piece of reparations,” she said.
On a website intended to explain the lawsuit to eligible class members, attorneys wrote that members would be paid proportional to their pay and benefits while employed at the universities.
This would account for the fact that those who had worked there longer, or who had higher pay and benefits, were “allegedly harmed more” than others, the legal team wrote.
Regular faculty members will receive an average of $2,341.19 in compensation, according to the site. Other faculty positions, like adjuncts or visitors, will receive an average of $152.54.