Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe Anti-poaching Settlement Gets June Hearing

An outside attorney says that the pending $324.5 million settlement is often how class-action cases are resolved, even though the lead plaintiff isn't satisfied with the deal.

Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe are waiting to find out if a California judge will approve a $324.5 million settlement agreement that they reached in April with plaintiffs who claimed that the companies had illegally conspired to control salaries by not recruiting employees who worked for rival companies.

The proposed settlement will be the subject of a June 19 hearing in San Jose, Calif., where U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh will decide whether it will be accepted as written, according to a report by Reuters. The proposed settlement would affect some 64,000 workers who have joined the class-action case against the defendants.

One of the four named plaintiffs in the case, Michael Devine, has told the court that he objects to the proposed settlement because it amounts to only about one-tenth of the $3 billion in damages the plaintiffs were originally seeking, the story reported. That $3 billion amount could have ultimately been tripled to $9 billion under U.S. antitrust laws had the case gone to trial.

Back in April 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating the hiring practices of Google, Apple and other companies, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The hiring practices at that time allegedly included agreements to not poach each other's top talent, which could violate antitrust and labor laws. The federal government had previously investigated Google, Apple and other companies over similar deals. The class-action lawsuit targeted the companies in civil court following the government investigation.

The case has been very visible in Silicon Valley and across the nation because it involves some of the most important technology companies in the United States and their leaders. That included Apple's former leader, the late Steve Jobs, who allegedly sent emails describing the strategy and practice of not hiring workers from other companies to limit such poaching.

With the court hearing on the proposed settlement set for June 19, Chicago attorney David Becker, who specializes in employment and patent litigation for Freeborn & Peters, told eWEEK that Koh will have a lot to consider when she decides the case.

Koh will have to review whether plaintiffs will have the ability to opt out of the settlement and go through legal briefs from both sides, said Becker.

What is particularly interesting about the case, said Becker, is that Jobs put his comments about the practice into emails and sent them to others for discussion. "He didn't even care about putting it in an email," he said. "Then, when [other companies] stopped going after those employees, then that ends up being collusion."

Those emails from Jobs were "just another study about the ego of the guy," said Becker. "He didn't care that he was writing it down. I'd be shocked if he didn't know that there's something wrong with doing this."