A year and a half after Sony Pictures was devastated in a massive hack that saw thousands of employees’ personal information ending up exposed online, the class action lawsuit against the studio has come to an end — though legal action from the hack itself hasn’t. Today in a sometimes contentious hearing in federal court in downtown Los Angeles, a multimillion-dollar settlement stemming from the November 24, 2014 data breach was given final approval by Judge R. Gary Klausner.
After months of pitched legal battles, as Deadline exclusively revealed on September 2 last year, Sony and the lawyers for the ex-employees involved in the suit came to a deal. With likely adjustments, the total price tag to Sony is around $15 million, with a max of $10,000 per individual plus around $1,000-$3,000 to the group of initial plaintiffs. With 435,000 class action members certified by Klausner last November, attorneys for the plaintiffs will are expected to receive $3.49 million for their work in the cases since late 2014. To be determined later by the judge, that money will not come out of the settlement itself.
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“We think it is a win for the class members,” attorney Daniel Girard of San Francisco firm Girard Gibbs told Deadline after the hearing today.
The agreement also sees Sony providing identity-theft protection up until the end of 2017 and an adjustable “non-reversionary fund” to compensate class members who had to pay out to protect themselves after their info went public. On average, as is common in class actions of this size, the payout to each regular class member will be fairly small.
However, the likley most important, largest and last element of the settlement will be the ongoing ID protection via services from AllClear — which could see Sony paying out over $4 million. Class members who sign up for the AllClear Pro program will have an identity-theft insurance policy of up to $1 million each. Lawyers for the class said in court Wednesday that about 18,000 members have joined the offered program to date. Although everyone in the class is automatically covered by the AllClear Secure program, signing up for AllClear Pro requires documentation including Social Security numbers — something some members are unsurprisingly hesitant to hand over. The deadline for signing up for the program still has a couple of weeks to go.
Less than a month after the gutting November 2014 hack, former Sony employees Michael Corona and Christina Mathis were the first to make legal moves against the studio, on December 15, 2014. The alleged North Korean-originated invasion stemming from the studio’s distribution of The Interview saw Sony’s security systems broken open, with executive correspondences and other industry details revealed along with the exposure of personal information for an estimated 3,000 former and current Sony employees. Besides the corporate devastation, and the lawsuit, one of the many reverberations of the attack was the eventual exit of Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal in early 2015.
Earlier this year, a mailer sent to the nearly half-million potential class members gave them until March 9 to object to the settlement. With that date passed and an extension late last year of the final hearing date, the settlement seemed a sure thing. “Plaintiffs can report that out of approximately 435,000 Settlement Class Members, most of whom received direct mail notice of the settlement, only two have objected,” noted a March 23 filing. Approximately 66 class members requested to be excluded from the settlement.
However, while the class action is resolved, the legal fallout from the hack attack is still not fully over for Sony. The studio is still battling the defamation, negligence and invasion of privacy lawsuit that former VP Global Commercial Planning and Innovation Amy Heller hit them with on the first anniversary of the attack.
On November 24, 2015, Heller went after Sony over an internal report of her Spring 2014 exit from the studio that incorrectly said she was “terminated,” not laid off, as was the case. Spewed all over the Internet in the 2014 hack, the report also accused her of property crime involving a $90 computer mouse that went missing from her office when she left. Accusing Sony of acting in “a deliberate, cold, callous, fraudulent, and intentional manner in order to injure and damage” her, Heller said last fall that because of the incorrect report being made public, she “has not been able to secure work at even well-below her prior executive level position.”
Last month, Sony finally replied to Heller’s complaint seeking multiple damages in L.A. Superior Court – and, unsurprisingly, the studio wants it tossed out.
“Defendants generally and specifically deny each and every allegation in the Complaint, and each cause of action in the Complaint, and deny that Plaintiff has been injured or damaged as alleged, or at all,” said the March 22 response from the Sony defendants (read it here). “Defendants further deny that Plaintiff is entitled to the relief sought in the Complaint, or to any relief at all.”
No trial date has been set in the Heller matter, but a status conference is expected later this month.
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