FTC chairwoman to step down, leaving three vacancies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez will step down next month after more than three years as chair and six at the agency under Democratic President Barack Obama, the FTC said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO - FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on protecting consumer information in Washington February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Ramirez, who worked on the Harvard Law Review with Obama and later for his presidential campaign, is widely expected to be replaced by Republican Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen once President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

The commission has five seats, but Ramirez’s decision to depart effective Feb. 10 will leave just two commissioners in place: Ohlhausen and Democrat Terrell McSweeny.

Ramirez headed the agency, which enforces antitrust law and pursues companies that defraud consumers, during what another antitrust enforcer called a “tsunami” of high-value deals in industries that already were dominated by a few large players.

Altogether, the agency brought nearly 400 consumer protection-related actions and about 100 related anti-competitive mergers under her tenure, the FTC said in a statement.

Under Ramirez, the agency successfully sued to stop food distributing giant Sysco Corp SYY.N from buying US Foods Holding Corp USFD.N in 2015 and prevented retailer Staples Inc SPLS.O from buying Office Depot ODP.O Inc in 2016, among other deals.

It lost, however, an effort to prevent medical technology provider Steris plc STE.N from buying British sterilization services provider Synergy Health Plc in 2015. It had a mixed record in its attempts to stop hospitals from merging.

On the consumer protection front, the FTC was one of several U.S. agencies that required Volkswagen to pay a settlement of up to $10 billion in 2016 for cheating on emissions tests for some diesel vehicles.

Under Ramirez, the agency pressed on with its effort to establish itself as a cyber cop by suing companies, like Wyndham Hotels in 2012, over sloppy handling of consumer data.

The FTC also won a $1.2 billion settlement against a brand name drug company over payments to generic rivals to stay off the market. In the case, Cephalon Inc paid Teva TEVA.TA and others not to compete against its sleep-disorder drug Provigil. The settlement took place in 2015, even though Teva bought Cephalon in 2011.

Ramirez was named a commissioner in 2010 and became chair in 2013. Before joining the commission she worked for the law firms Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP.

Reporting by Diane Bartz and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler