A former top Mayo Clinic executive is being sued for allegedly hiding his hiring by a competitor of Mayo Medical Laboratories for months while he continued to work for Mayo and for stealing trade secrets.
Mayo Clinic filed a lawsuit alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of contract against Dr. Franklin R. Cockerill III, who was president and chief executive officer of the for-profit Mayo Medical Labs for eight years. The case was filed Tuesday in Olmsted County District Court. Mayo Clinic released the lawsuit to the media this morning.
A Mayo Clinic statement released by Bryan Anderson this morning said, “We do not take this action lightly. Dr. Cockerill was a valued Mayo Clinic clinician, leader and colleague. We will vigorously defend and protect our intellectual property to ensure we can continue to meet our charitable mission,"
A call to Dr. Cockerill's southwest Rochester residence went unanswered this morning. Asked to comment, Quest Director of Media Relations Wendy Bost said the company received the complaint this morning and is reviewing it. "We do not comment on pending litigation," Bost said.
According to the complaint:
On July 17, an emotional Cockerill told his department that he was "retiring" to help his 85-year-old mother run her fertilizer business in Nebraska. Co-workers lauded his almost 30-year career with Mayo Clinic and gave him an appreciative send-off that built up to his final day of work on Sept. 30.
All of that changed on Oct. 1. Instead of retiring to Nebraska, Cockerill went to New Jersey to work for a major MML competitor, Quest Diagnostics Inc. He stepped into the position of vice president and chief laboratory officer for the multibillion public company.
Using emails as evidence, Mayo Clinic contends Cockerill had been talking to Quest about a job since February. He had a phone interview with Quest in March followed by a face-to-face interview in May, when Cockerill said he needed the time off to help his mother with a business problem. The lawsuit alleges he accepted the Quest position in June. Instead of informing Mayo Clinic, he continued to work at Mayo and attend confidential meetings, where issues were discussed that could cause irreparable damage to MML and Mayo Clinic in the hands of Quest.
Cockerill exchanged emails discussing business strategies with Quest CEO Stephen Rusckowski in August, according to Mayo's suit.
Mayo Clinic alleges Cockerill left with at least seven clinic-owned USB memory drives and that he used four of them to "download information from Dr. Cockerill's computer in the days before … (he) started working for Quest."
Mayo Medical Labs and Quest vie for millions in medical test contracts. Mayo Medical Labs performs about 20 million tests for more than 4,000 hospitals annually. Quest says it does 1.5 billion tests a year. Many of the clinical tests conducted by both MML and Quest are proprietary and generate millions in revenue.
The lawsuit also claims Cockerill attempted to recruit "at least one long-term key Mayo employee to consider retiring early to 'consult' with the lab industry," though he did not specifically mention Quest to the female executive.