UPDATE, 11:53 AM: The judge who rejected Apple, Google and other tech giants’ attempts to settle their illegal wage suppression and anti-poaching case with a $325 million payout has come to ‘toon town. “I find that the more recently filed case(s) that I have initialed below are related to the case assigned to me, and such case(s) shall be reassigned to me,” said Judge Lucy Koh yesterday in a case order (read it here).
On September 16, former DreamWorks Animation effects artist Robert Nitsch Jr. asked for the well-versed federal district judge to take over Nitsch’s class action case against his ex-employer, Disney, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm over their alleged collusion in keeping pay down and employees in line. Now Nitsch has gotten his wish and the studios have a judge on the bench who likely will cut to the case much quicker than they probably wanted.
PREVIOUS, SEPTEMBER 16 PM: If DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm thought they could bog down the class-action lawsuit that a former DWA effects artist has brought against the toon studios, they’d better think again. A week after Robert Nitsch Jr launched his legal missile against the combo for an anti-poaching and wage-suppression deal they supposedly had, he’s now looking to bring in what could be their judicial nightmare. “Plaintiff Robert A. Nitsch, Jr. submits this administrative motion requesting that the Court consider whether Nitsch v. DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. and … High-Tech Employee Litigation are related and direct the Clerk of Court to reassign Nitsch to the Honorable Judge Lucy H. Koh,” said lawyers for Nitsch in a federal filing this week (read it here)
Koh’s name might not mean much yet in Hollywood, but it sends shudders though Silicon Valley. For the past several years, she has presided over a class-action case by 64,000 tech workers against Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe in which the tech giants contrived for years not to snag engineers and other qualified employees from one another. As in the animation studios suit, which was birthed out of evidence presented in the tech suit, the companies were accused of also suppressing employees’ wages to double digits below market value as a way to keep people in-house and save on costs to boost profits. The 2011 suit came out of a now-settled 2010 Department of Justice investigation. Promising that they had discontinued the unlawful polices back in 2010, the tech companies thought they were in the clear when a $325 million settlement was proposed. That was scuttled when Koh rejected the settlement as too low. She said it should be at least $380 million to be fair. The tech companies are fighting her rejection of the settlement.
“While there can be no doubt that Judge [Vince] Chhabria is more than capable of handling this case, the simple fact is that Judge Koh has already done much of the relevant work,” Nitsch’s September 15 notice of motion says. “Over the course of four years and the most significant motions in a class action, Judge Koh has reviewed the considerable record evidence and fielded and decided many of the legal issues present in both cases, work that would have to be done more or less from scratch by any new judge.”
Heavily implicated in the actions, Lucasfilm and Pixar paid out $9 million earlier this year.
Which brings us to why Nitsch wants Koh to oversee his case even though another judge has already been assigned. “Pixar and Lucasfilm are Defendants in both cases,” says his 3-page filing. “Much of the same evidence will be central to both cases and is already part of the record in High-Tech, including deposition testimony by Pixar and Lucasfilm personnel, documentary evidence detailing their agreement, and evidence of their internal compensation practices.” In the tech class action, emails from then-Pixar and Disney execs Ed Catmull and Dick Cook revealed a similar anti-poaching and wage-suppression scheme had been brought to the animation arena by Apple and Pixar boss Steve Jobs. DWA chief Jeffrey Katzenberg’s name also was bandied about as being in on the agreement. George Lucas admitted under oath that the purpose of the illicit deal was to keep the visual effects industry out of “a normal industrial competitive situation.” While unorthodox, it would be very interesting to see if Koh takes over the potentially hundreds of plaintiffs case — and how fast and big the toon studios put forth a settlement.
Brent Johnson, Daniel Small and Jeffrey Dubner of the D.C. offices of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC are representing Nitsch, who worked at DWA from 2007-11 and at Sony Imageworks in 2004.