Anti-Poaching Conspiracy Involves Some of the Largest Feature Animation Studios
In September 2014 Robert Nitsch, senior character effects artist at DreamWorks Animation, Georgia Cano, digital and lighting artist at Rhythm & Hues, and David Wentworth, production engineer and computer graphics supervisor at ImageMovers Digital, filed a class-action lawsuit against several of the largest feature animation studios. The workers claimed that the studios conspired to restrict competition by sharing information and entering into anti-poaching agreements. These agreements allegedly stem all the way back to the mid-1980s.
The case began in 2009 after the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division began investigating several high-tech companies’ hiring practices, including Google and Adobe. Pixar and Lucasfilm became involved in the investigation, which lead to the discovery of emails among the studios agreeing that they would not cold call or engage in bidding wars with each other’s employees. While that case was settled in 2014, it was the discovery of those emails that lead to Nitsch, Cano, and Wentworth filing their current lawsuit against the studios.
The workers have claimed that the studios exchanged sensitive compensation information, fixed compensation ranges of their employees, and refrained from soliciting of each other’s employees, in violation of federal antitrust law and the California Business and Professions Code, which prohibits such actions as a restriction on competition. They claim that the anti-poaching agreements injured them by lowering their compensation and preventing them from commanding better job opportunities. The suit seeks to represent thousands of employees, including all persons who worked for the defendant studios from 2004 to present. The workers are seeking damages that could run into the millions, interest, attorney’s fees, and a permanent injunction.
Defendants involved in the lawsuit include several big name studios, including The Walt Disney Company, DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc., Pixar Animation Studios, and Sony Pictures Animation, Inc. So far the defendants have denied all charges. As a defense, the studios have asserted that some of the workers in the class signed waivers that released their employer from liability for actions taken concerning their employment.
In August, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh refused to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that the plaintiff’s “have sufficiently alleged facts showing that defendants reached an agreement to conspire.” Currently, the parties are in discovery which is scheduled to continue until October of this year, and a class certification hearing is scheduled for May.
Dominic Patten, Disney & Sony Want Revived Animation Anti-Poaching Suit Scratched Out, Deadline Hollywood (Sept. 18, 2015), http://deadline.com/2015/09/disney-sony-animation-lawsuit-dismissal-response-1201534181/ [https://perma.cc/9W65-5DQV].
Brian Gabriel, What Is The Animation Wage-Fixing Lawsuit? An Explainer for the Community, Cartoon Brew (Jan. 19, 2016), http://www.cartoonbrew.com/artist-rights/animation-wage-fixing-lawsuit-explainer-community-131812.html [https://perma.cc/L24A-YUXU].
Ted Johnson, Judge Refuses to Dismiss Revised Animation Workers’ Wage-Fixing Lawsuit, Variety (Aug. 21, 2015), http://variety.com/2015/biz/news/walt-disney-co-dreamworks-animation-wage-fixing-1201576005/ [https://perma.cc/9AP8-ZPMT].