EXCLUSIVE: They say if something happens three times then it is probably a fact. Well, the fact is the legal floodgates have opened on DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Pixar and Sony as yet another class action has been filed against the ‘toon companies over alleged anti-poaching and wage fixing deals.
“Visual effects and animation studios, including Lucasfilm, (including its division Industrial Light & Magic), Pixar, DreamWorks, The Walt Disney Company (and its division Walt Disney Animation Studios), Sony, ImageMovers, Digital Domain, and others have engaged in a long-running conspiracy to suppress the wages of their highly skilled workers and employees,” claims a complaint from David Wentworth (read it here). A former Associate Computer Graphics Supervisor at Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers, Wentworth’s October 2 filing in federal court is very similar to two previous class action suits put before the courts in the past five weeks.
Like the complaints from former DWA effects artist Robert Nitsch Jr. and digital artist Georgia Cano, Wentworth is seeking to represent the same people. “These workers consist of animators, digital artists, software engineers, and other technical and creative workers who have dedicated their efforts, energy, and careers to produce major motion pictures,” says his detailed 20-page document filed in San Jose. “These workers were deprived of hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation that the Defendants instead added to their profits.”
Among other damages, Wentworth wants the court to award him and all “Class Members all appropriate relief, including, but not limited to: Compensatory damages in an amount to be proven at trial and trebled thereafter.” Just so you know, that’ll be a lot of class members as they are defined in the complaint as anyone who worked in the U.S. at one of the named companies “at any time from 2004 to the present in technical, artistic, creative and/or research and development positions.”
Named executives like DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Pixar now Disney’s Ed Catmull and other unnamed execs are obviously not a part of that group – though examples of their actions are given in the complaint
“Narrow wage and salary bands were fixed by Defendants for employees with similar job titles with the goal of maintaining internal equity,” claims the complaint among other not so virtuous instances. “The conspirators also sought to include activities and meetings that furthered the suppression of worker wages. Senior human resources and recruiting officials from each of the Defendant studios met on an annual basis to discuss job titles, compensation, and an industry survey.”
Not only is Wentworth going after essentially the same companies as Nitsch and Cano but also he wants the same judge as their cases now have. On October 6, Wentworth’s lawyer Jeff Friedman submitted a motion to relate his client’s case to that of Nitsch under Judge Lucy Koh (read proposed order here).That’s another bit of bad news for the animation companies as Koh has presided for several years over the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation case against Apple and other tech companies which started as a Justice Department investigation over 5 years ago. Earlier this year Koh actually rejected Apple, Google and other tech giants’ attempts to settle their own illegal wage suppression and anti-poaching case with a $325 million payout. Information of the alleged ‘toon conspiracy came out of that case. On September 23, Koh assigned herself Nitsch’s case after a motion requesting her to do so. On October 7, she also assigned herself Cano’s case.
Let’s see if Wentworth’s will be next.
Putting all the animation antitrust cases under one judge umbrella could potentially see their reclassification as one very wide reaching class action. It could also remove a number of legal roadblocks the defendants may try to put up to stymie the cases.
Friedman and Shana E. Scarlett of Berkley’s Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP represent Wentworth. Steven Berman of the firm’s Seattle office is also working on the case.