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Blue Sky Reaches Settlement in Hollywood Studio Antitrust Lawsuit

Settlement provides for a cash payment of almost $6 million, with $10,000 for each of the named plaintiffs; hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for June 16.

Blue Sky Studios & 20th Century Fox’s ‘The Peanuts Movie.’

Blue Sky Studios has reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit, Variety reports, alleging that the animation studio behind last year’s The Peanuts Movie and the Ice Age franchise and other companies violated antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress the wages of animation and VFX artists via non-poaching agreements.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose last week, the settlement provides for a cash payment of almost $6 million, with $10,000 for each of the named plaintiffs. A hearing on the proposed settlement is scheduled for June 16.

Other defendants, including the Walt Disney Co., DreamWorks Animation, ImageMovers, Lucasfilm, Pixar and Sony ImageWorks, were not part of the proposed settlement agreement. Daniel Small of Cohen Milstein, lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, reportedly said that the litigation is continuing against the other defendants.

The complaint filed by lighting artist Georgia Cano, character effects artist Robert Nitsch and production engineer David Wentworth accuses the studios of suppressing wages since 2004 by refraining from cold-calling employees and sharing news of job offers.

The suit contends that the roots of the anti-poaching agreements go back to the mid-1980s, when George Lucas and Ed Catmull, the president of Steve Jobs’ then-newly formed company Pixar, agreed to not raid each other’s employees. Other companies later joined conspiracy, the suit alleges, including Sony ImageMovers, Lucasfilm and Blue Sky Studios.

The plaintiffs have been seeking class certification. Their proposed settlement class includes certain animation and visual effects employees who worked at Pixar from 2001 to 2010; Lucasfilm from 2001 to 2010; DreamWorks Animation from 2003 to 2010; the Walt Disney Co. from 2004 to 2010; Sony Pictures Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks from 2004 to 2010; Blue Sky from 2005 to 2010; and ImageMovers from 2007 to 2010.

Under the settlement proposal, a claims administrator would determine the sum to be awarded based on a pro rata. It will be calculated based on an employee’s total compensation compared to the compensation of all class members during the time frame.

While initially dismissed in part because the claims were brought too late, in August U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh refused to dismiss the plaintiffs’ amended complaint, writing, “These allegations raise a plausible inference that defendants entered into an express agreement to suppress compensation.”

Arrangements to freeze wages and not poach employees were the subject of a separate investigation and lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department in 2010. Several companies agreed to a prohibition against enforcing anti-poaching pacts for a period of five years, which ended the DOJ review, but in 2011, a class-action lawsuit was brought against Pixar, Lucasfilm, Apple, Google, Adobe and Intuit. The first two companies settled claims for $9 million while the other companies have gone to an appeals court after Koh rejected a $325 million settlement as insufficient.

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.

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