A federal jury found Denver-based DaVita and its former CEO Kent Thiry not guilty Friday, after determining that neither the dialysis giant nor Thiry broke the law when they made agreements with other companies not to hire each other’s employees.
The verdicts Friday capped a nearly two-week trial of a closely watched criminal conspiracy case. It was the first time that a criminal jury has been asked to decide if corporations are committing a crime when they agree not to hire employees away from each other, and it could have set a precedent criminalizing that practice as an antitrust violation.
Thiry and DaVita, one of the country’s largest kidney care companies, were initially indicted in July on two counts of violating the Sherman Act, which deals with antitrust law. In November, the grand jury returned a second indictment adding a third count. Federal prosecutors accused DaVita and Thiry of conspiring in three separate schemes to suppress competition around the hiring of certain employees between 2012 and 2019.
The jury deliberated for two days and returned their verdicts about 4:10 p.m.
“The jury affirmed that this case should never have been brought,” Thiry said in a statement. He thanked the jury for its “thoughtfulness in performing its solemn duty.”
While the landmark antitrust case drew national attention, a guilty verdict could have had larger legal ramifications on Colorado corporations, John Francis, who teaches health and antitrust law at the University of Colorado, said.
“Had the verdicts come back guilty, that would have had a big impact on antitrust compliance in Colorado corporations. This, though, doesn’t really change things,” Francis said.
“Legally and from an academic standpoint, that takes a lot of the potential impact of the case out of it,” he said.
Requests for comment were not immediately returned by an attorney for DaVita or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Colorado.
Authorities allege that DaVita and Thiry conspired with Surgical Care Affiliates LLC — also known as SCA — to agree not to solicit each other’s senior-level employees, while the other two agreements, with two unnamed healthcare companies, affected all of the employees within the companies.
Prosecutors claim Thiry and DaVita’s actions “substantially affected interstate trade and commerce.”
Thiry stepped down as DaVita’s CEO in April 2019, but said he would continue serving as executive chairman on the company’s board. He stepped down from that role, too, in 2020.
Thiry has become a political force in Colorado in recent years. He has given at least $5.9 million to support ballot measures since 2011 – all of which won.
In January, Gov. Jared Polis awarded Thiry the governor’s citizenship medal for innovation, calling him one of the state’s most successful executives and “a force of nature.”