Latest Animation Studios Antitrust Lawsuit Being Erased

EXCLUSIVE: Claims against the major animation studios for alleged anti-poaching deals and secret wage-fixing agreements aren’t going away, but DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Sony Pictures Animation, Digital Domain, Imageworks, Pixar, Lucasfilm and others soon will face a little less of a legal battle. After filing a class-action suit of his own on Nov. 20, animator Van Phan today told his lawyers he wants his complaint dismissed as soon as possible.

“It was never my intent nor would I intentionally agree to be lead plaintiff in this new class action,” says the layout artist. “I thought I was opting into a pre-existing suit. I didn’t do my due diligence and I made an incorrect assumption,” he told me today, referring to the previous three class actions and now consolidated class action of digital artists Robert Nitsch Jr. David Wentworth, and Georgia Cano.

Not that Phan was in the dark about what was being done in his name by a team of lawyers from three different firms. “I did get a copy of the complaint a few weeks ago and I read it, but I just skimmed it,” Phan acknowledged.

It was only when the Madagascar and Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs animator read my story late last week that he more clearly comprehended what he had gotten himself into, he said.

“I got the phone call from the lawyers, there was money on the table,” the animator says of how he got involved in any legal action in the first place. “I now see I misunderstood.”

Attorney Jason Kilene of Gustafson Gluek told me today, “If the client wants the case dismissed, we are happy to dismiss the case.”

Phan contacted his Minneapolis-based attorneys earlier today via email to have them end the case, I have learned. Unlike the plaintiff in the very short-lived David Letterman interns lawsuit back in September, Phan is not pointing the finger at his lawyers. However, he does say that he originally was contacted by Gustafson Gluek in early November. The firm says a New Jersey-based law firm referred him to them. A yet-unidentified firm that Phan says originally contacted him on the matter the day before the class action specializing Gustafson Gluek did.

Today, the client and the firm spoke by phone after Phan sent his email. “We are going to move to have the case dismissed as soon as possible,” Kilene added, saying the filing in federal court could happen within the next few days. California-based Phan is represented in the matter not just by Gustafson Gluek but also another Minneapolis firm, Lockridge Grindal Nauen LLP, as well as Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, which is based in the Bay Area.

Filed in the same federal Northern California jurisdiction as class actions of Nitsch, Wentworth and Cano, Phan’s case heavily detailed violations of the California’s Unfair Competition Law, the Sherman Act and the Cartwright Act – much as the previous complaints had. Not only did his filing outline the scheme and name the likes of then-Pixar (now Disney) exec Ed CatmullJeffrey Katzenberg, Dick Cook and Apple CEO and Pixar founder Steve Jobs but also added extra information of who handled what for whom when.

Not that Phan’s forthcoming dismissal ends the legal drama for DWA, Disney and the other ‘toon studios. On Dec. 2, the actions of Nitsch, Wentworth, and Cano were consolidated into one in an amended complaint.

That potentially explosive case alleges a wide-ranging multi-studio illegal kneecapping of their own employees’ financial situation. Judge Lucy Koh is handling the case. She is the same judge who earlier this year rejected the proposed $325 million settlement of the ongoing High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation as too little.

The discovery process in that case is what first revealed the high-level actions of which the animation companies now are being accused. Back in late September, Koh agreed to the request from former DWA effects artist Nitsch that she be reassigned to handle his class action because of its connection to the High-Tech case. The complaints by Cano and Wentworth followed the same route. It seems Phan’s attorney’s anticipated the same thing in their case, though it was assigned to Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins, whose chambers are in the same San Jose courthouse as Koh’s.

If the consolidated case receives reclassification, it could come to include thousands of members who worked at the companies from 2004 onward. That could include Phan, who worked at DreamWorks from 2002-05, Digital Domain in 2011 and back at DWA that same year. Or not.

“I had a great experience at DreamWorks and Digital Domain,” Phan said.

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