It’s Over! Disney Ends Animation Anti-Poaching Suit With $100M Deal

With DreamWorks Animation, Fox’s Blue Sky Studios, Sony Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation all having come to multi-million dollar settlements with animation workers in the over two-year class action suit over wage-fixing and anti-poaching allegations, it was all down to Disney. While the House of Mouse is infamous for almost never settling lawsuits, last night proved the exception as The Walt Disney Company, Pixar, Lucasfilm and Two PIC MC filed paperwork to offer a $100 million deal to end the legal action.

“The Court should preliminarily approve the proposed settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate because it provides for the class a cash payment of $100,000,000,” says a notice of motion filed on the media giant’s behalf on Tuesday evening in federal court (read it here). “That amount is approximately 33.5 percent of plaintiffs’ expert’s calculation of the damages attributable to Disney Defendant employees in the certified class based on plaintiffs’ November 16, 2016 merits expert report on damages.”

With a hearing earlier this month on DWA’s $50 million settlement of last October in the case moving things forward on that front, the Disney gang want a March 9 meeting with Judge Lucy Koh on their proposal. There were no specifics in the motion on January 31 of how much the lawyers would get out of this settlement but they won’t be getting dough off the top. “The settlement requires payment of attorneys’ fees solely out of the Settlement Fund,” says the paperwork from a team of the trio of firms for the plaintiffs.

Yesterday’s move by Disney comes after years of fighting the action that started when ex-DWA visual effects artist Robert Nitsch Jr. first filed his case on September 8, 2014. The animation studios involvement in this antitrust behavior was born out of another anti-poaching case  – the Judge Koh overseen and now settled $415 million Department of Justice investigation into tech companies Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe and Intuit. Those big boys all had an agreement to not snare each others employees and to keep what people were paid at a certain agreed upon rate – which is what the ‘toon studios did too.

At one point, all looked lost for the animation workers when the matter was tossed in April 2015 – but it was revived not long afterwards.

It was only after suffering some serious legal losses that looked to tip the balance in favor of original plaintiffs Nitsch, David Wentworth and Georgia Cano  that the ‘toon studio wall broke with Fox’s Blue Sky Studios becoming the first defendant to back down on March 31 last year and reach a nearly $6 million settlement in the potentially sprawling case aSony Pictures Imageworks Inc. and Sony Pictures Animation Inc. followed next in early may 2016 when they came to a $13 million settlement with the plaintiffs. The now NBCUniversal owned DWA offered up its deal last fall, putting Disney alone on the hook for what could have been a messy court case.

Now it’s all over but the fine print – hopefully.

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.

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