DaVita and its former CEO acquitted of U.S. antitrust charges

April 15 (Reuters) - A jury in Denver, Colorado, acquitted dialysis provider DaVita (DVA.N) and its former CEO Kent Thiry on Friday of charges that they conspired with competitors not to hire each other's employees.

The Justice Department had alleged in the case that both DaVita and Surgical Care Affiliates LLC required senior-level employees who sought to work for them to notify their current employers that they were job-hunting. read more

"The jury affirmed that this case should never have been brought," Thiry said in a statement. "I want to thank the community that provided so much support through this difficult time."

In a statement, DaVita said: "(We) are grateful to put this matter behind us. We remain committed to operating with integrity and upholding the highest standards of law."

While enforcers have traditionally focused on prices and innovation in enforcing antitrust law, the Biden administration has shifted its emphasis somewhat to put more focus on illegal agreements that might push down wages.

Friday's decision comes after DaVita and Thiry had an alleged anti-poaching agreement with Surgical Care Affiliates LLC, now part of UnitedHealthcare (UNH.N), from 2012 to 2017 that sought to prevent each company from wooing away senior-level employees, the Justice Department said last year.

SCA was charged in early 2021. Trial has been set for early next year.

The department also alleged that DaVita struck agreements with two other companies, Hazel Health Inc and Radiology Partners, to not hire DaVita employees.

The jury acquitted the company and its former CEO on all three counts, a spokeswoman for Thiry said.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department, said in a statement that he was disappointed in the outcome, but respects the jury's decision and remains committed to enforcing the antitrust laws in the labor markets.

Reporting by Diane Bartz, Mike Scarcella and Katanga Johnson; Additional reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Edmund Klamann

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