×

Judge Dismisses Animation Workers’ Antitrust Suit Over Studio Wage Practices

A federal judge has dismissed a class action lawsuit claiming that The Walt Disney Co., DreamWorks Animation, Sony ImageWorks and other companies violated antitrust laws by conspiring to set animation wages via non-poaching agreements.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, in a ruling issued on Friday, largely cited the statute of limitations in throwing out the complaint filed by former DreamWorks senior character effects artist Robert Nitsch, former ImageMovers Digital production engineer David Wentworth and digital artist Georgia Cano, who held jobs at Rhythm & Hues, Walt Disney Feature Animation and ImageMovers Digital.
Koh concluded that the plaintiffs failed to show “any new or independent actions” taken by the studio defendants after Sept. 8, 2010, the cutoff date for the four-year statute of limitations window. She also concluded that the clock began ticking at the time plaintiffs could show that they were harmed by price-fixing, rather than at the point when they discovered it may be taking place.
Koh said the workers could file an amended complaint within 30 days. She also wrote that even though she dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint, the studios still have to respond to discovery requests for the workers’ wage-fixing claims.
The workers contended that the roots of the anti-poaching agreements go back to the mid-1980s, when George Lucas and Ed Catmull, the president of Steve Jobs’ newly formed company Pixar, agreed to not raid each other’s employees.

Other companies then joined the conspiracy, the suit contended, with agreements on such things as cold calling and notifying each other when making an offer to an employee of another company. The lawsuit cited emails between Catmull and human resources personnel, and it also claimed that Jobs and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, “personally discussed DreamWorks joining the conspiracy.”

Also named as defendants in the suit were ImageMovers, Blue Sky Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar.

Lucasfilm and Pixar were already targets of a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit in 2010, along with Apple, Google, Adobe Systems, Intel Corp. and Intuit, in which the government contended that their “no solicitation” agreements prevented highly skilled employees from commanding better wages and job opportunities. The companies settled the litigation by agreeing to end such practices for a period of five years.

But a class-action civil suit was filed in 2011, and during the litigation emails were disclosed which appeared to link other companies to the “no poaching” agreements, including Disney and DreamWorks Animation, who were not named defendants in either that lawsuit or the Justice Department action. In a settlement Koh approved last May, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed to pay $9 million, and Intuit agreed to pay $11 million.

The animation workers tried to argue that the statute of limitations clock started when they first discovered what they considered evidence of wage fixing — at the time documents from the prior litigation were unsealed — but Koh disagreed. She also rejected their claims that the animation studios were continuing their antitrust violations, writing that the workers failed to show that the studios “did more than passively conceal information.”

The animation studios argued that the claims were “belated attempts to spin off fresh litigation from a DOJ investigation that began more than five years ago, is now well over, and resulted in no proceedings being instituted against the majority of the defendants in this case; and from civil litigation that followed shortly thereafter and is now nearing resolution.”

More Biz

  • Pete Frates, who is stricken with

    Pete Frates, Inspiration for The Ice Bucket Challenge, Dies at 34

    Pete Frates, the inspiration behind 2014’s wildly successful ALS movement, the Ice Bucket Challenge, died on Monday. He was 34.  The historic Ice Bucket campaign raised over $115 million to combat ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which Frates also suffered from.  “Pete never complained about his illness,” his family said in a statement.  “Instead, he [...]

  • CBS HEADQUARTERS

    ViacomCBS Will Explore Sale of Black Rock CBS Headquarters

    ViacomCBS will explore the sale of the famous Black Rock building, which has served as the headquarters of CBS since the mid 1960s. Bob Bakish, CEO of the company, which was created last week from the merger of CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc., said the newly combined entertainment conglomerate would explore the sale of sundry [...]

  • The recipients of the 42nd Annual

    Heartfelt Tributes Trump Politics at Kennedy Center Honors

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Political chatter was kept to a minimum Sunday night as the Kennedy Center Honors presented elaborate tributes to “Sesame Street” — made more poignant by the death of legendary puppeteer Caroll Spinney earlier in the day — as well as Sally Field, Linda Ronstadt, Earth, Wind and Fire and conductor Michael Tilson [...]

  • Chris Cornell’s Widow Sues Soundgarden

    Chris Cornell’s Widow Sues Soundgarden Over Royalties, Unreleased Recordings

    A long-simmering battle between Chris Cornell’s widow and the other members of Soundgarden broke into the open Monday morning when Vicky Cornell announced that she is suing the group over hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly unpaid royalties and the rights to seven unreleased recordings made before the singer’s death in May of 2017. [...]

  • Stephen Colbert Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    Julia Louis-Dreyfus Talks 'Seinfeld,' 'Sexist' Environment at 'SNL' in Q&A With Stephen Colbert

    Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus swapped stories about “Saturday Night Live,” Northwestern University, “Seinfeld” and the possibility of running for office during a Q&A held Saturday as part of Montclair Film Festival’s annual “Evening with Stephen Colbert” fundraiser. Colbert, a Montclair resident, has long been a booster of the festival, which is going into its [...]

  • 2019 Kennedy Center Honoree singer Linda

    Linda Ronstadt to Mike Pompeo: Stop 'Enabling' Donald Trump

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Linda Ronstadt, one of this year’s Kennedy Center Honorees, had sharp words for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday night during a State Department reception for the Kennedy Center kudos. Ronstadt and Pompeo faced off in the U.S. State Department’s ornate diplomatic greeting rooms at the traditional event that precedes Sunday’s [...]

  • pharrell brain child show

    'Blurred Lines' Flares Up Again - Marvin Gaye Family Claims Pharrell Perjured Himself

    Like a zombie that just won’t stay dead, the “Blurred Lines” case keeps coming back. While the 2015 verdict, in which Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and the song’s publisher were ordered to pay nearly $5 million to Marvin Gaye’s family for infringing upon the late singer’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up,” was basically [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content