Anti-Poaching Lawsuit Against Apple, Google, and Others Moves Ahead

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A class action lawsuit brought by thousands of tech workers against Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and several other prominent tech companies will proceed after a judge recently dismissed the companies’ request for a summary judgment without a trial, reports Reuters. Apple, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE), and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) are accused of participating in an anti-poaching conspiracy that limited their employees’ job options and salary potential. In their motions for a summary judgment, the companies argued that their no-solicitation agreements were made independently and were not part of a conspiracy.

However, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh rejected the defendants’ argument. “The similarities in the various agreements, the small number of intertwining high-level executives who entered into and enforced the agreements, Defendants’ knowledge about the other agreements, the sharing and benchmarking of confidential compensation information among Defendants and even between firms that did not have bilateral anti-solicitation agreements, along with Defendants’ expansion and attempted expansion of the anti-solicitation agreements constitutes evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, that tends to exclude the possibility that defendants acted independently, such that the question of whether there was an overarching conspiracy must be resolved by a jury,” wrote Koh in her ruling.

Koh cited various emails and internal company memos that suggested the companies were conspiring with each other, including communications written by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. “[B]asically, [Mr. Jobs] said ‘if you hire a single one of these people that means war,’” said Brin, according to the court documents.

Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) and Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) Lucasfilm and Pixar units were also part of the conspiracy, but have already reached out-of-court settlements with employees. According to Reuters, Disney is paying approximately $9 million and Intuit is paying $11 million. Apple, Google, and the other two remaining companies are being charged with violating antitrust laws by maintaining secret no-solicitation agreements with each other.

The case originated in 2011 when five software engineers accused the companies of conspiring to limit employees’ wages by agreeing not to poach workers from each other. The case was later granted class action status when the plaintiffs demonstrated that their lawsuits had enough in common to allow them to sue together. The claims made by the employees in this lawsuit are similar to the ones made in a 2010 U.S. Department of Justice probe of the seven companies. The Justice Department probe ended after the companies agreed to stop their anticompetitive employment practices. The upcoming trial is scheduled to begin in May.

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