The Curious Case of Dr. Cockerill, Mayo Clinic and Quest Diagnostics

Judge says former Mayo Med Lab CEO ‘engaged in deception in order to hide his relationship with Quest’

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MOST PEOPLE WOULD CONSIDER the job of Chairman of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP) at Mayo Clinic and CEO of Mayo Medical Laboratories (MML) to be at the pinnacle of the pathology profession.

This makes it all the more curious as to why pathologist Franklin R. Cockerill III, M.D., decided to announce his early retirement from these two positions, effective on September 30, 2014, only to surface a day later, on October 1, working as the Chief Laboratory Officer for Quest Diagnostics Incorporated, a major competitor of Mayo Medical Laboratories.

News reports say that, earlier in September, when Cockerill announced his early retirement from both Mayo positions, he told colleagues he planned to help his mother run the family fertilizer business in Nebraska. Thus, it came as a big surprise to Mayo officials to learn of his employment at Quest Diagnostics.

Praising Cockerill, Quest President and CEO Steve H. Rusckowski said, “Few individuals in health care possess Frank’s impressive record of successful leadership in business, clinical, and academic roles.”

Within two weeks, the Mayo Clinic filed a lawsuit against Cockerill, claiming he misled the company in order to acquire sensitive information to benefit his new employer, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reported.

Court documents show that, on October 15, a judge in the case issued a temporary restraining order, prohibiting Cockerill from working at Quest, having any contact with Quest, or soliciting any employees or customers of Mayo or MML for the benefit of Quest. The order also required Cockerill to return to Mayo all confidential, proprietary, or trade secret information.

The evidence presented at court “demonstrates, at this stage, a pattern of deceptive behavior by Dr. Cockerill. Plaintiffs alleged Dr. Cockerill repeatedly lied to Mayo, MML, and Dr. Cockerill’s long-time colleagues about his activities, including the reasons for his retirement and separation from MML,” Judge Robert Birnbaum wrote.

Birnbaum ordered the parties to confer and return to the court to modify the order.

Allegations in Mayo’s Lawsuit

In the suit Mayo filed against Cockerill, the company claimed Cockerill accepted the job at Quest in June but did not inform Mayo and instead continued to work and attend meetings at Mayo, and provided advice to Quest officials before he was hired on October 1, Fierce Healthcare reported. Also, Cockerill took from Mayo at least seven USB drives and downloaded data from his Mayo computer to four of the drives before joining Quest, noted Fierce Healthcare.

On December 4, Cockerill resigned from Quest, and Mayo determined that Quest was no longer a factor in the case, the Post-Bulletin reported. Mayo’s lawsuit against Cockerill continues, however, and a hearing is scheduled for December 22 in Olmsted County Court, the newspaper added.

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