Former Optum Employee Faces Allegations of Covenant Breach, Trade Secret Misappropriation

On Thursday in the District of Minnesota, UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UHG), United HealthCare Services Inc. (UHS), and Optum Services Inc. filed a complaint against a former Optum employee for allegedly breaching employment agreements by leaving to work for competitor Anthem Inc. and consequently misappropriating the plaintiffs’ trade secrets.

Tricia Fringer was a “trusted and core member” of Optum’s leadership team, being “one of only five people at the organization authorized to see and approve pricing for Optum’s largest deals” and “one of less than a dozen employees with access to Optum’s confidential information across multiple segments, including … ‘bid’ and ‘win’ strategies; cost of goods sold; and pricing, underwriting, marketing, and product information,” which all are classified as company trade secrets, according to the complaint. Fringer frequently worked on the company’s national accounts — clients serving more than 3,000 members — including UHS.

Fringer gave notice to Optum on Dec. 10, 2020 that she would be leaving for a position — senior vice president and president of national accounts — at Anthem, “one of Optum’s and UnitedHealthcare’s largest competitors,” on Dec. 21, 2020, the complaint said.

The plaintiffs argued that “Fringer’s knowledge of Optum’s and UnitedHealthcare’s confidential and proprietary information — the heart of Plaintiffs’ competitive edge — would directly benefit Anthem.” They allege that her employment at Anthem not only breaches confidentiality, non-disparagement, non-solicitation, and non-competition agreements she entered into with the plaintiffs but that she “inevitably will use or disclose trade secrets” in her new role.

According to the complaint, Anthem itself has described Fringer’s new role as being “responsible for the sales and retention for National Account customers” through “creat(ing) a superior customer value proposition” — to “develop() and implement() the National Accounts strategy to ensure the segment grows” — and “will also closely partner with Underwriting, Marketing, Interplan and Product.” The plaintiffs argued that the role will be “precisely” what Fringer managed at Optum, and she “cannot unlearn” the trade secrets and strategies developed while she was at Optum and thus will necessarily share trade secrets in the operations of her new position. This will give Anthem an unfair competitive edge “through asymmetrical knowledge” of the plaintiffs’ business strategies, the complaint said.

Further, the plaintiffs pointed out that Anthem recently has hired two other former UHG executives, Underwriting and Pricing Group member Carlos Louro and Employer & Individual CEO Jeff Alter, within the past few months — “(a)nd now, together, Fringer, Louro, and Alter may recreate all of the confidential and proprietary information necessary to understand Optum’s and UnitedHealthcare’s pricing and business strategy.” Significantly, the plaintiffs noted, these moves are happening during the first month of the year, the “peak” of the medical benefits sale cycle.

The plaintiffs alleged breach of contract and violations of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, Minnesota Trade Secrets Act, and Delaware Uniform Trade Secrets Act. They requested injunctive relief to bar Fringer from her role at Anthem and any other roles that would breach her employment agreements with Optum for 12 months post-order and to bar her from sharing the plaintiffs’ trade secrets; attorneys’ fees and costs; among other reasonable relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by Blackwell Burke PA.