Disney agrees to $100-million settlement in anti-poaching lawsuit brought by animators

Walt Disney Co. has agreed to pay $100 million to settle a long-running lawsuit brought by animators and visual effects workers who alleged that several Hollywood companies had adhered to an anti-poaching pact that kept pay down.

Burbank-based Disney, whose subsidiaries Pixar Animation Studios and Lucasfilm were also named in the class-action case, was the last entertainment company to agree to settle the dispute.

Defendants including DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation and 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios agreed to settlements last year. In all, the deals would total about $170 million for the plaintiffs.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by former DreamWorks Animation artist Robert Nitsch Jr. in September 2014. The complaint, lodged in U.S. District Court in San Jose, alleged visual effects and animation companies “conspired to systematically suppress the wages and salaries of those who they claim to prize as their greatest assets — their own workers.” 

The complaint alleged that the practice began in the 1980s when Pixar and Lucasfilm agreed to an anti-poaching pact (before they were owned by Disney), whereby the companies agreed to not “cold call” each other’s employees.

The lawsuit sought an unspecified amount of money including compensatory damages and legal costs, plus a permanent injunction to prohibit anti-poaching agreements.

Disney’s proposed settlement, filed on Tuesday, must be approved by U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh. The agreement, which includes Pixar, Lucasfilm and another Disney subsidiary, Two Pic MC, would be the largest of any of the defendants’ settlements. 

The class was certified by Koh in May; it totaled more than 10,000 people, according to a court filing at the time.

“We achieved a recovery for the class that we think is substantial and fair,” said attorney Steven G. Sklaver of Susman Godfrey, who represented the plaintiffs along with lawyers from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro. “This is a conspiracy that involved suppressing compensation for employees all because it was viewed to be a cost that the companies didn’t want to incur.”

Disney did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit was filed following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into anti-poaching tactics used by companies including Pixar, Apple, Google and Intel. The companies settled with the Department of Justice in 2010, agreeing to a prohibition against engaging in anticompetitive no-solicitation agreements.

After the Department of Justice’s probe ended, those companies and others — including Lucasfilm — faced a separate class-action lawsuit over poaching claims that was brought by software engineers in 2012. That case, also overseen by Koh, was settled in 2015.

daniel.miller@latimes.com

@DanielNMiller

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
69°