Disney, Sony, DreamWorks seek to throw out anti-poaching lawsuit

Companies say workers took too long to sue
By Jonathan Stempel/Reuters
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 01/14/2015

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) — Walt Disney, Sony and DreamWorks Animation urged a federal judge to throw out a antitrust lawsuit accusing them of conspiring not to poach each other's animators in order to keep wages down.

The defendants told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, that the plaintiff animators took too long to sue by waiting until five years after the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009 began probing recruiting practices at Silicon Valley and other technology companies.

In a Friday night filing, the defendants also called it "implausible" to believe they would collude to suppress wages after the federal probe began, and after several companies including Disney had settled related private litigation.

"The court might ask what, exactly, these plaintiffs have uncovered that was somehow missed by the industrious High-Tech plaintiffs," the companies said. "The short answer is: nothing."

Daniel Small, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, declined immediate comment on Monday, saying he had yet to review the defendants' filings.

Blue Sky Studios, a unit of 21st Century Fox Inc, is also a defendant. Lighting artist Georgia Cano, character effects artist Robert Nitsch and production engineer David Wentworth are the named plaintiffs.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of having illegally suppressed animators' wages since 2004 by agreeing not to cold call employees, alerting each other to hiring offers, and agreeing not to offer more pay in response to counteroffers.

Disney's Lucasfilm and Pixar units, and Intuit Inc settled similar claims covering other workers for a combined US$20 million, while Apple Inc, Google Inc, Intel Corp and Adobe Systems Inc reached their own US$324.5 million settlement last May.

Koh last August rejected the US$324.5 million accord as too low. Technology workers later asked the federal appeals court in San Francisco to overturn that ruling.

As in other anti-poaching lawsuits, the animators' lawsuit relies in part on emails and testimony under oath.

It cites, among other things, a 2005 email from a Pixar human resources executive alluding to a "gentleman's agreement" not to poach, and testimony in which Lucasfilm founder and "Star Wars" director George Lucas was said to want to avoid bidding wars "because we don't have the margins for that sort of thing."

A hearing on the dismissal motion is set for March 26.

The case is In re: Animation Workers Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 14-04062.

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