EXCLUSIVE: Sony might have come to a proposed settlement over the lawsuits from its massive hacking last year, but the studio, Disney, Pixar and Lucasfilm have no inclination to make such a deal over wage-fixing and anti-poaching allegations against the toon studios.
“Sony Pictures denies any allegation that it participated in any non-solicitation or compensation-fixing agreement or concealment as alleged in the Second Amended Complaint,” said the company in a response filed late last night to plaintiffs David Wentworth, Robert Nitsch Jr. and Georgia Cano’s latest filing in the potentially sprawling case (read it here). Disney, Pixar and Lucasfilm filed similar responses, with a filing from DreamWorks Animation expected early next month. The studios want the case “dismissed with prejudice,” no class action certification and all claims sent to the privacy of arbitration.
While denying “the existence of any ‘anti-solicitation scheme,’” the Walt Disney Company doesn’t exactly say an agreement among the toon execs about hiring and paying its employees existed — just that it wasn’t a conspiracy. “TWDC admits that Pixar and Lucasfilm had an understanding that the companies’ recruiters would not cold call employees of the other company, that if Lucasfilm extended an offer of employment to a current employee of Pixar, Lucasfilm would not counter-offer if that candidate received a different offer from Pixar (and vice versa), and that Pixar and Lucasfilm would notify each other after making an offer to an employee of the other company,” said the media giant’s September 17 response (read it here). “TWDC admits that the DOJ conducted an investigation into Pixar’s and Lucasfilm’s recruiting practices,” it adds.
Sony’s 36-page response to the animation workers’ second amended complaint, on the other hand, is a constant litany of the phrase “denies the allegations.” Well, the company does admit a few things too – like “Sony Pictures Imageworks is involved in the creation of visual effects for live-action films and that Sony Pictures Animation is involved in the creation of animated films.” They also admit there is a lawsuit happening, kind of. “Sony Pictures admits that Plaintiffs assert they are entitled to damages on behalf of a purported class, but Sony Pictures denies that it violated any law and denies that Plaintiff or any purported class member is entitled to any damages or other relief and further denies that there is a ‘class’ that meets the requirements.”
Of course, that’s exactly what Judge Lucy H. Koh addressed when on August 20 she rejected Sony, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar and Disney’s last attempt to dismiss the resurrected suit. “Sony contends that it never entered into the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to begin with and that Plaintiffs’ factual allegations actually support the conclusion that Sony was actively poaching the employees of its competitors,” wrote the federal judge, who also oversaw the similar and DOJ-investigated allegations and case against tech giants like Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe. That case now seems to have reached a $410 million settlement for the 64,000 tech workers affected. Koh sees clear links to this matter. “However, as Plaintiffs note, that Sony may have violated the alleged agreement does not disprove Sony’s involvement in the conspiracy as a matter of law,” Koh added late last month (read it here). “Indeed, if Sony were not part of the conspiracy to begin with, there would be no need for Pixar to tell Sony to ‘knock it off (again!).’”
While Koh tossed Wentworth, Nitsch and Cano’s first amended complaint on April 3, she did give them leave to file another one – which the plaintiffs did on May 15. As the High Tech litigation stumbled into public view, former DWA visual effects artist Nitsch was the first to file on September 8 last year. Cano and Wentworth soon followed and once Koh took over the matter on September 24 , she allowed them to consolidate their action.
If this new version of the lawsuit even gets deeper and dirtier into the ‘toon studios dealings of the first decade of the 21st century is still to be seen – but a lot of lawyers are digging, one way or another.
Disney, Sony, DWA and the others are represented by a collection of law firms with attorneys from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Covington and Burling, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Williams & Connolly plus McManis Faulkner. Daniel A. Small of DC’s Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC; Steve Berman of Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobel Shapiro LLP; and Marc Seltzer of LA’s Susman Godfrey LLP are the main lawyers for Wentworth, Nitsch and Cano in the case.