Sun, May 25, 2014 - Page 13 News List

Tech giants settle hiring lawsuit

DEAL STRUCK:About 64,000 workers had accused Apple Inc, Google Inc, Intel Corp and Adobe Systems of limiting competition and wages for technical staff

Reuters

Four major Silicon Valley companies have formally agreed to pay US$324.5 million to settle claims brought by employees who accused them of limiting competition by colluding not to poach each other’s talent.

The settlement, between Apple Inc, Google Inc, Intel Corp, Adobe Systems Inc and about 64,000 workers, was disclosed in papers filed late on Thursday with a US federal court in San Jose, California.

US District Judge Lucy Koh has been asked to preliminarily approve the accord at a hearing on June 19, over an objection by one of the four named plaintiffs, Michael Devine, who says the settlement let the companies off too easily.

The payout was originally reported by Reuters, but not officially confirmed.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs may seek up to 25 percent of the settlement amount in legal fees.

Filed in 2011, the lawsuit accused Silicon Valley companies of conspiring to limit competition and keep wages down for engineers, programmers and other technical staff.

The case has been closely watched because of the potential US$9 billion of damages sought, and its occasional embarrassing revelations into how Silicon Valley operates.

Among the communications that became public were pointed e-mails written by Apple cofounder Steve Jobs that at times admonished then-Google chief executive Eric Schmidt to stop “raiding” his company.

Thursday’s settlement gives workers only a few thousand US dollars each on average.

The combined proft of the companies in their latest fiscal years was about US$60 billion, with three-fifths generated by Apple.

In court papers, two law firms representing the plaintiffs said that Devine’s objection should not doom what they consider a fair and reasonable settlement for an antitrust case, and which they say serves the best interests of the class.

They pointed to a July 2012 jury verdict in the same court that found that Toshiba Corp conspired to fix prices in the liquid-crystal display market, but awarded just US$87 million of damages, one-tenth of what was sought.

“The amount of the settlement does not relate to the size or profitability of the companies we sued,” Joseph Saveri, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview.

“It relates to the claims we made, the law that applies to them, and the facts that we could prove at trial. Based on that, I think the settlement is a significant achievement,” Saveri added.

Meanwhile, Koh on Friday last week approved separate settlements totaling US$20 million over alleged poaching by Walt Disney Co’s Lucasfilm and Pixar units, and by Intuit Inc.

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