Fox Battle With Netflix Over Executive Poaching Gets Summer 2019 Trial Date

Netflix Fox Lawsuit
REX/Shutterstock/20th Century Fox

Almost two years after Fox took Netflix to court for poaching two executives still under contract, the streaming service and the still Rupert Murdoch owned studio have a trial date for next year.

In a hearing this morning out at the Santa Monica courthouse, a L.A. Superior Court Judge Gerald Rosenberg decided that the parties would go into the potentially final stretch of their potentially highly influential dust-up on June 17, 2019.

This is just the latest turn in a case that has been full of twists and a number of steps back for Fox’s efforts to demand the enforceability of employment agreements in California. On a hiring spree the past few years as content, distribution and marketing demands have surged, even when subscribers haven’t always, the Reed Hastings run Netflix has basically insisted that such contracts are unfairly restrictive and invalid.

If the streaming service prevails in this case at trial, it could have massive implications for millions who work in the Golden State under contact, agreements that would essentially lack enforceability.

The trial date next year that was penciled in at Tuesday’s status conference will likely last around three weeks in total from jury selection to conclusion. Even before that, both sides are expected to file summary judgement motions, which could end the whole thing. In a Thanos snap or just kill more trees with more paperwork as this dispute grinds on.

Of course, if multi-billion-dollar merger plans go forward as planned, by the time this case actually goes to trial, it will certainly be new Fox owners the Walt Disney Company paying the lawyer’s fees. Whether or not this is a battle that the House of Mouse wants to fight is unclear at this point but certainly Disney has rarely shied away from litigation when it comes to contracts.

This all started Back in September 2016, when Fox sued Netflix claiming it had illegally snatched executives  Marcos Waltenberg and Tara Flynn and encouraged them to break their employment contracts. Netflix hit back with a counter-suit soon after, taking the stance that Fox was actually engaged in unlawful and anti-competitive business practices by locking its employees into restrictive fixed-term employment agreements that limit their job mobility.

Today’s hearing and trial date setting comes almost a month after the California Court of Appeal denied Fox’s move to have the courts toss the streamers’ stance that its employment contracts were hollow on free speech grounds.

That latest setback for Fox was preceded by a rejection of their anti-SLAPP motion by in early 2017 by the L.A. Superior Court. At that time, the ruling was that Netflix’s suit hinged on restrictive employment agreements, not on threats from its lawyers to sue Netflix for poaching its employees. Fox went up the judicial food chain only to have the state Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling.

So, now it’s back to the trial court for now.

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