Over a year and a half after a former DreamWorks Animation visual effects artist kicked off a potential class action suit against Sony, DWA, Pixar, LucasFilm, Disney and others over wage-fixing and anti-poaching allegations, Fox owned Blue Sky Studios has today thrown in the legal towel and is seeking a settlement.
“The Court should preliminarily approve the proposed settlement as fair, reasonable and adequate because it provides for the class A cash payment of $5,950,000 and cooperation from Blue Sky,” said a filing Thursday in federal court in Northern California concerning The Peanuts Movie studio (read it here).“That amount is approximately 25 percent of plaintiffs’ expert’s calculation of the damages attributable to Blue Sky employees in the class.”
Original plaintiff Robert Nitsch Jr. plus the soon following David Wentworth and Georgia Cano will each receive $10,000 in this first settlement in what has been an in-and-out of court case. Nitsch first filed in the matter on September 8, 2014 with the other two following within just over 2-weeks later. With deep seated implications for the animation industry, the case has been tossed and revived since Nitsch first took action. Blue Sky were added to the action in late 2014.
“By any measure, but especially for the first settlement in the case with the smallest defendant, it is an excellent result for the class,” adds the settlement motion from the attorneys. A hearing on the proposed agreement is set for June 16 in front of Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose.
The agreement expressly provides and Blue Sky emphatically states that the settlement does not represent an admission of any liability or wrongdoing by Blue Sky Studios or any of its current or former employees,”said Blue Sky today in a statement after the filing, which aims to deliver them a complete release from all claims in the litigation.”This settlement agreement is subject to review and approval by the Court in this matter, which the parties expect will take place in the coming months.”
Today’ settlement proposal comes one day after U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal ruled in the case that emails and other correspondence from Pixar’s former general counsel didn’t have enough hard information of antitrust violations to warrant being used as evidence in the matter.
Similar to DOJ-investigated allegations and $415 million settled case against tech giants like Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe, this litigation alleges that the ‘toon studios worked together in the early 2000s to keep wages low among their animating staff. Claiming that the motivation came from Steve Jobs’ way of handling his industry and Pixar’s business, the trio’s lawsuit also says that the likes of DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney-Pixar’s Ed Catmull and others also made sure that no one leaped from company to company with offers of more money or other perks. Despite internal correspondence and other material snagged out of the 64,000 represented worker tech case, the ‘toon studios have always held a united front denying the existence of such a collusion.
They have sought to have the case dismissed and to prevent it being consolidated into a class action – moves that may prove even harder now Blue Sky has made their deal.
Blue Sky Studios are represented by DC’s Williams & Connolly LLP. 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 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.