New petition raises questions about the statute of limitations for the class-action lawsuit alleging that studios violated antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress the wages of animation and VFX artists via non-poaching agreements.
In a new filing in District Court on Thursday, The Walt Disney Company and DreamWorks Animation are seeking permission for an “interlocutory appeal” to the class-action lawsuit claiming they and other Hollywood studios violated antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress the wages of animation and VFX artists. According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, the appeal would be heard before the Ninth Circuit before the case even gets to trial.
The class-action lawsuit, which was certified by U.S. District Court judge Lucy H. Koh in late May, alleges that studios violated antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress the wages of animation and VFX artists via non-poaching agreements. 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.
20th Century Fox-owned Blue Sky Studios and Sony have both already made multi-million-dollar settlements in the case, but this latest move indicates that both the Mouse House -- and its subsidiary Pixar -- and DreamWorks Animation won’t go down without a fight.
The new petition raises questions about the statute of limitations for the case, a date for which is difficult to pin down in a case involving so many plaintiffs. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of some 10,000 visual effects workers, could mean that tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake for the defendants, so the distinction could be crucial.
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.