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Sony Joins Blue Sky in Settlement of Hollywood Studio Antitrust Lawsuit

Settlement in a class-action lawsuit alleging that Sony and other studios violated antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress the wages of animation and VFX artists via non-poaching agreements will see a payout of roughly $13 million to the initial plaintiffs and other class members.

Sony Pictures Animation’s 2009 feature, ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,’ was produced during the period cited in the class action lawsuit filed by lighting artist Georgia Cano, character effects artist Robert Nitsch, and production engineer David Wentworth.

Sony has become the second Hollywood studio to reach a settlement in a class-action lawsuit alleging that it and other studios violated antitrust laws by conspiring to suppress the wages of animation and VFX artists via non-poaching agreements, according to a report by Deadline.

“Plaintiffs have reached a settlement with Defendants Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. and Sony Pictures Animation Inc. and by early next week will file a motion for preliminary approval of this settlement,” read a case management filing in federal court on April 29 by lawyers for plaintiffs Robert Nitsch Jr., David Wentworth and Georgia Cano.

While details have yet to be officially revealed publicly, Deadline reports that the settlement will see a payout of roughly $13 million to the initial plaintiffs and other class members.

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.

Earlier this year, in April, 20th Century Fox-owned Blue Sky Studios reached a multi-million-dollar settlement providing for a cash payment of almost $6 million, with $10,000 for each of the named plaintiffs. Both settlement deals will not represent an admission of any liability or wrongdoing on the studios’ part in the class action.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh to schedule the preliminary approval hearing for the Sony settlement on the same day as the June 16 court appearance already set for Blue Sky Studios. A hearing on class certification for the case is currently on the calendar for May 6.

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.

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.

Head over to Deadline to read the full story, and take a look at the filing here.

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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