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Animation Workers Reach $50 Million Settlement With DreamWorks Animation

A settlement has been reached between a group of animation workers and DreamWorks Animation in a class action lawsuit alleging that DreamWorks and other companies violated antitrust laws by conspiring to set animation wages via nonpoaching agreements.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose on Monday, the settlement provides for a cash payment of $50 million to a settlement fund. The named plaintiffs, Robert Nitsch, David Wentworth, and Georgia Cano, already had reached settlement agreements with Sony ImageWorks and Blue Sky Studios.

Other defendants in the case are the Walt Disney Co., Lucasfilm, Pixar and ImageMovers. Tjose cases are still pending.

Under the terms of the proposed DreamWorks settlement, the class includes certain animation and visual effects workers who worked at DreamWorks from 2004 to 2010; Pixar from 2004 to 2010; Lucasfilm from 2004 to 2010; The Walt Disney Co. from 2004 to 2010; Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks from 2004 to 2010; Blue Sky from 2005 to 2010; and ImageMovers from 2007 to 2010.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys may ask for up to 30 percent of settlement funds for attorneys fees. If the court approves, each of the named plaintiffs would receive up to $10,000 each. Exact payments for each employee will be based on a formula, posted on the class action website

The settlement still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 19.

The lawsuit was filed by Nitsch, a former DreamWorks Animation senior character effects artist; Wentworth, a former ImageMovers Digital production engineer; and Cano, a digital artist who held jobs at Rhythm & Hues, Walt Disney Feature Animation and ImageMovers Digital.

In its settlement, Sony agreed to pay $13 million to the settlement fund, and Blue Sky agreed to contribute $5.95 million.

The workers contend 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.

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.

In a settlement of a class action civil suit that Koh approved in May 2014, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed to pay $9 million, and Intuit agreed to pay $11 million. But during the litigation, emails were disclosed that appeared to link other companies to the “no poaching” agreements. The animation workers filed their own class action lawsuit in December 2014.

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