For the past several months, more and more information has been revealed pertaining to the class action lawsuit involving The Walt Disney Company, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures, and Blue Sky Studios, and their actions in several anti-poaching and wage-fixing deals. Pixar Animation, Lucasfilm, and ImageMovers are also defendants in these claims.
Most recently, on Friday, the companies slammed the lawsuit. They requested that the newer antitrust claims be dismissed, since they came too late and didn’t have enough factual support.
During the filing, the studios contended that the employees, “do not allege a single term of this alleged agreement to fix compensation levels or point to a single communication evidencing any such agreement. Rather, plaintiffs allege that defendants participated in a third-party industry salary survey, attended meetings in connection with that survey and other industry conferences, and occasionally communicated about compensation issues. But it is well-settled that such allegations, sowing a mere ‘opportunity’ to conspire, are insufficient to plead a price-fixing agreement.”
The plaintiffs in the case include: Robert Nitsch, a former DreamWorks senior character effects artist; David Wentworth, a former ImageMovers Digital production engineer; and Georgia Cano, who had worked at Rhythm & Hues, Disney Animation, and ImageMovers Digital as a digital artist. The plaintiffs seek a class action status, and their hearing against the defendants is to be held on March 26th for U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh.
The workers claim that the roots of the anti-poaching agreements began in the mid-1980s. George Lucas of Lucasfilm and Ed Catmull of Pixar agreed to not raid each other’s employees at this time.
From here, other animation studios began to join the conspiracy, notifying one another when potentially making an offer to an employee of another studio.
Lucasfilm and Pixar were already targets of a Justice Department lawsuit in 2010. This was also a antitrust lawsuit, that included Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, and Intuit. The “no solicitation” agreements these companies had set up prevented the highly skilled employees from getting better wages or job opportunities. These companies were able to settle the litigation by agreeing to end these practices for five years.
But in 2011, a class-action civil suit was filed showing that other animation companies, such as Disney and DreamWorks were also involved in “no poaching” agreements, who had no been apart of the previous lawsuit.
This new class action suit contends that the animation studios took part in actions in which, “senior human resources personnel met annually after the survey for an ‘opportunity for an intimate group of us to get together,’ which they termed ‘Directors meeting.’ At least at one studio, the meetings were called the annual ‘salary council.'”
The suit also claims that, in 2006, the head of human resources at Pixar sent emails to the H.R. representatives at DreamWorks, Sony, Imageworks, Lucasfilm, Disney, Slue Sky, and others to help provide salary increases in 2007 for Pixar’s budget. This email asked for the other studios to increase their salary budgets as well.
The motion to dismiss these claims relies heavily on the fact that the plaintiffs waited five years to press their own lawsuit, despite the previous trial in 2010.
“In an effort to manufacture new claims not covered by the High-Tech lawsuits, plaintiffs assert that animation studios, other than High-Tech defendants Pixar and Lucasfilm, also participated in the alleged conspiracy. However, plaintiffs’ attempt is futile as a matter of law and comes far too late. The statutes of limitations for their claims expired long ago,” read the motion.
Sources: Boston Herald, Animation World News
Edited by: Morgan Stradling