Silicon Valley anti-poaching pact lawsuit goes forward

Apple, Google, other tech companies face civil action over alleged deal not to recruit employees

The suit will go on.

A California judge on Thursday rejected requests from lawyers of several Silicon Valley giants that she dismiss a civil lawsuit alleging that they engaged in anti-poaching agreements designed to avoid bidding wars for top talent.

U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh ruled Thursday from a San Jose, Calif., courtroom that the class-action suit can go forward.

The companies named as defendants in the suit are well-known tech giants: Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe Systems, Intuit, Walt Disney's Pixar animation unit and Lucasfilm.

In September 2010, these companies settled with the U.S. Justice Department, admitting no wrongdoing but agreeing not to do the thing they wouldn't admit they did, which was to secretly conspire not to recruit talent from each other, thus keeping salaries down.

In other words, your typical lame settlement with the feds. No blame, no penalty, no real repercussions. I wonder why corporations blatantly keep pushing the legal envelope.

Shockingly, that wasn't good enough for some employees of these companies, who felt their careers were negatively impacted by the covert pact. Last May, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Siddharth Hariharan, a former software engineer at Lucasfilm, alleging that the firms conspired to violate antitrust laws "by conspiring to fix the pay of their employees and entering into 'No Solicitation' agreements with each other." Other lawsuits soon followed.

If you read some of the emails from company executives gathered as evidence for the Justice Department's investigation, they're pretty damning. Here's one to former Apple CEO Steve Jobs from Adobe SVP of human resources Theresa Townsley in 2005:

"Bruce and Steve Jobs have an agreement that we are not to solicit ANY Apple employees, and vice versa. ... Please ensure all your worldwide recruiters know that we are not to solicit any Apple employee. I know that Jerry is soliciting one now, so he'll need to back off."

Koh's decision means that plaintiffs can force the tech companies to hand over documents related to the no-poaching agreements -- you know, the ones the companies denied having but promised not to have again -- and submit to depositions.

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