A former Mayo Clinic doctor and executive said he did not tell Dr. John Noseworthy about his plans to work for a Mayo competitor because he "feared retribution against himself and his family."
Dr. Franklin R. Cockerill III, the former CEO of Mayo Medical Labs, took early retirement at the end of September. However, instead of retiring, he stepped into a new job on Oct. 1 with Quest Diagnostics Inc.
The clinic filed a lawsuit against Cockerill over his decision to not tell Mayo Clinic he had been hired by a competitor; he told co-workers he intended to run his elderly mother's farming business.
The suit claims he misled everyone so he could acquire sensitive competitive information for his new employer. As part of that suit, a temporary restraining order was issued on Oct. 14 that prevented him from working at Quest because he could cause "irreparable harm" to Mayo Clinic.
Cockerill filed a motion Wednesday to modify that order to allow him begin his role as Quest's chief lab officer because the person he is to replace will retire at the end of December. However, his lawyers withdrew the filing on Thursday and also withdrew an affidavit that detailed his version of the events surrounding his departure from Mayo after a more than 30-year career there.
However, the withdrawal came after the Post-Bulletin obtained a copy of the affidavit.
"It is now plain that the draconian restrictions that Plaintiffs obtained from this Court and that Dr. Cockerill had no opportunity to oppose are not consistent with Minnesota law and are entirely inappropriate," according to the original filing made by his lawyers from the Minneapolis firm of Lindquist & Vennum.
Cockerill contends Mayo Clinic had approached him with an attractive early retirement offer as his final two-year term as a department head was coming to an end. When asked for a response, Mayo Clinic denied that.
"Claims of an early retirement offer are completely false, and we were prepared to file documentation to prove it," said Mayo spokesman Bryan Anderson this morning.
In his affidavit, Cockerill says he announced his retirement in July, with plans to help his mother, and then he was asked by a Quest recruiter to interview for a position there. He eventually accepted a job with the condition that he work from Rochester, instead of the company's New Jersey headquarters.
Cockerill stressed in his filing he did not make the change to make more money. Mayo Medical Labs is the third largest laboratory company in U.S. and generates "a significant proportion of Mayo's profits." He had made about $580,000 a year at Mayo Clinic. At Quest, he will earn an annual salary of $400,000.
"I left my employment at Mayo reluctantly and only due to the convergence of several factors that arose as I enter the last stages of my professional career," he wrote in the filing. "Finally, in addition to limitation on the role I could still play at Mayo, my interest in the Quest position, and the attractive Mayo early-retirement offer, my decision to change employment was also influenced by my belief that the environment at Mayo had negatively changed over the past five years. Staff satisfaction has declined, burnout has significantly increased, and many people have grown afraid to speak up and voice their opinions."
That's the environment Cockerill said made him fearful that telling Dr. Noseworthy that his plans had changed would result in his being fired on the spot and losing his retirement benefits.
"Based on various personal and professional interactions, I was intimidated by and afraid of Dr. Noseworthy. Further, I was frightened that if I told Dr. Noseworthy of my plans to join Quest there would be retaliatory action against me, Sherine (Gabriel, his wife who is the dean of the Mayo Medical School) or against members of my family who are affiliated with," he wrote.
Cockerill concluded his statement by adding he was "confused and disappointed" by Mayo Clinic's legal action against him.
"Mayo's targeting of me is especially surprising and disturbing because many MML executives have left Mayo over the past several years, but to my knowledge ,no action has been taken against them, despite the fact that they all engaged in competitive activities," he wrote.
As examples, he then listed 10 former Mayo Clinic leaders, including Keith Laughman, Jessie Salk, Dino Kasdagly and Bob Kissabeth. His list also included former executives from areas other than MML, such as Shirley Weis, James Hodge and Bob Brigham.
Mayo Clinic responded this morning that Cockerill's case is different than the other ones.
"Of other senior leaders departing Mayo Clinic, we understand that our staff members move to other organizations, and, when they do so in a transparent manner, we can manage any conflicts-of-interest during their transition, and we can protect our confidential information and trade secrets," stated Anderson by email. "Dr. Cockerill was not transparent and did not report his conflict of interest."