Doubtful that DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Sony Picture Imageworks, Lucasfilm and others would call it a case of the more the merrier but the potential class actions against them are now connected – or at least at the same bench. In a move that could see the actions move ahead faster, Judge Lucy Koh has agreed to preside over the second lawsuit against the studios over allegations of an illegal anti-poaching and wage suppression deal they had going for years.
It can’t make the animation studios happy that the judge who rejected Apple and other tech companies’ $325 million settlement attempt to end a similar case against them is now overseeing their fate in these two cases.
Last month, Koh agreed to the request from former DWA effects artist Robert Nitsch Jr. that the Northern District of California federal judge be reassigned his class action. Nitsch’s basic argument was that his September 8 filed antitrust class action complaint was “related” to the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation case that Koh had been presiding over that for the past several years.
Obviously the Judge agreed.
Earlier this week Koh also issued an order assigning herself the punitive class action filed late last month by digital artist Georgia Cano. “As the judge assigned to the earliest filed case below that bears my initials, I find that the more recently filed case(s) … are related to the case assigned to me, and such case(s) shall be reassigned to me,” said Koh’s October 7 order (read it here). That puts all the cases under the same tent as the tech case – from which the ‘toon dealing was first revealed in depositions. Lucasfilm and Pixar paid out $9 million earlier this year to get out of the tech case though they are in deep in the two animation specific class actions
A lighting artist on the likes of Polar Express and a former Rhythm & Hues employee, Cano filed her complaint on September 17 against a number of the same studios as Nitsch and a few others such as Blue Sky Studios. “While protecting and enhancing their massive profits, defendants through their anti-poaching agreements and wage-fixing agreements deprived class members of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of compensation for which plaintiff and the class now seek relief,” said the filing in federal court (read it here).
Like Nitsch, Cano also noted this specific situation had been spawned over 25 years ago out of a not so gentlemanly agreement between Steve Jobs, then Pixar Prez Ed Catmull and George Lucas. Other animation makers like Jeffrey Katzenberg were supposedly brought into the arrangement. Jobs also later spread the same way of doing things to some of Silicon Valley heavyhitters, hence the Justice Department investigation and subsequent lawsuit from 64,000 high tech employees.
By the way –the tech companies are appealing Judge Koh’s rejection of their settlement for being too low. We’ll see if it comes to that with the ‘toon studios or not.