Class-action suit accuses major tech firms of pay collusion

Back pay, damages sought against Google, Apple, Intel, Adobe Systems, others


Less than eight months ago the U.S. Justice Department reached a settlement with six major technology companies accused of engaging in anti-poaching agreements designed to avoid bidding wars for top talent.

Now those same firms -- Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe Systems, Intuit, Walt Disney's Pixar Animation Studios -- and Lucasfilm Ltd. are the defendants in a class-action lawsuit filed on Wednesday accusing them of violating antitrust laws "by conspiring to fix the pay of their employees and entering into 'No Solicitation' agreements with each other."

(Also see: The inherent unfairness of employee non-compete agreements)

The lawsuit was filed in California Superior Court in Alameda County by the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein on behalf of Siddharth Hariharan, a former software engineer at Lucasfilm.

A press release from the law firm suggests Wednesday's action was taken because the settlement approved last September by the feds was inadequate.

The complaint for damages follows an investigation last year by the United States Department of Justice into similar misconduct by defendants. After that investigation was made public, defendants agreed to end the anticompetitive agreements. However, no compensation was provided to employees of defendants. Today's class action was filed to seek lost pay for the employees who were targeted by defendants' conspiracy.

In addition to compensation owed to affected workers, the class-action suit seeks "treble damages for the anti-competitive employment practices."

Here are some of the "factual allegations" included in the court filing:

The complaint alleges the conspiracy among defendants consisted of (1) agreements not to actively recruit each other's employees; (2) agreements to provide notification when making an offer to another's employee (without the knowledge or consent of that employee); and (3) agreements to cap pay packages offered to prospective employees at the initial offer.

Starting in 2005 with Lucasfilm and Pixar, and continuing until at least 2009 with all defendants, the companies entered into "No Solicitation" agreements with knowledge of the overall conspiracy and with the intent to reduce employee compensation. As additional companies joined the conspiracy, competition among participating companies for skilled labor decreased.

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