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Animation Workers Reach Settlement With Blue Sky in Wage-Fixing Lawsuit

A settlement has been reached between a group of animation workers and Blue Sky Studios, the studio behind “The Peanuts Movie” and “Ice Age,” in a class action lawsuit alleging that Blue Sky 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 Thursday, the settlement provides for a cash payment of almost $6 million, with $10,000 for each of the named plaintiffs, Robert Nitsch, David Wentworth and Georgia Cano. Other defendants, including the Walt Disney Co., DreamWorks Animation, ImageMovers, Lucasfilm, Pixar and Sony ImageWorks, were not part of the proposed settlement agreement filed on Thursday.

Daniel Small of Cohen Milstein, lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, said that the litigation is continuing against the other defendants.

Last August, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh refused to dismiss the plaintiffs’ amended complaint, writing that they had “sufficiently alleged facts showing that defendants reached an agreement to conspire.”

She wrote that the plaintiffs “have alleged that the defendants systematically shared information, agreed not to solicit each other’s employees and that the purpose of the information sharing and no-poach scheme was to suppress wages.”

The plaintiffs have been seeking class certification. Their proposed settlement class includes certain animation and visual effects employees who worked at Pixar from 2001 to 2010; Lucasfilm from 2001 to 2010; DreamWorks Animation from 2003 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.

Under the settlement proposal, a claims administrator would determine the sum to be awarded based on a pro rata. It will be calculated based on an employee’s total compensation compared to the compensation of all class members during the time frame.

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.

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.

A hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for June 16.

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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