Antitrust lawsuit against Apple, Google and others over anti-poaching allegations set for June 2013 trial

Mon, Apr 23, 2012

Legal, News

Well it looks like the controversy surrounding alleged e-book price fixing won’t be the only antitrust lawsuit Apple has to deal with.

Apple, along with Google, Intel, Adobe, Pixar, Intuit, and Lucasfilm, are being taken to task for agreeing to anti-poaching agreements wherein each of the aforementioned companies were precluded the recruitment of employees from any of the other companies.

In Silicon Valley, where engineering talent is king, keeping talented employees from jumping ship to rival firms is a top priority. The lawsuit, however, claims that in implementing these agreements, employees are often held hostage to the extent that their job opportunities may be limited as a result.

Despite efforts to have the case dismissed, US District Judge Lucy Koh ruled this past February that the case would continue pending an amended complaint from the plaintiffs. That complaint has since been amended and Koh has ruled that the case can proceed.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because the companies at issue already settled the matter with the US Justice Department back in 2010. The current suit in question, however, is a private suit brought by 5 software engineers who complain that the alleged agreements narrowed employment opportunities and ultimately costing employers as much as hundreds of millions of dollars.

Now Reuters is reporting that further efforts to have the case dismissed have fallen short.

District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, rejected the companies’ bid to dismiss claims brought under the federal Sherman antitrust law and California’s own antitrust law, the Cartwright Act.

In a decision on Wednesday night, Koh said the existence of “Do Not Cold Call” agreements among various defendants “supports the plausible inference that the agreements were negotiated, reached, and policed at the highest levels” of the companies.

“The fact that all six identical bilateral agreements were reached in secrecy among seven defendants in a span of two years suggests that these agreements resulted from collusion, and not from coincidence,” Koh added.

Steve Jobs was notoriously protective over his employees and always paranoid that rival companies would poach Apple’s best and brightest. In one famous anecdote relayed in his biography, Jobs, while at the time the subject of a Time cover story, made it clear that the magazine was not, under any circumstance, to post the name of Apple engineer Jeff Robbin. Robbin was a key member of the original iPod team and it’s been rumored recently that he’s leading the charge on Apple’s rumored HDTV.

During the 2010 investigation, it was revealed that Google had tried recruiting an Apple engineer, prompting Jobs to email Google CEO Eric Schmidt with a message that said, “I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this.”

The story goes that Schmidt forwarded the message along and that the employee who reached out to the Apple engineer was ultimately fired.

Reuters notes that the case is on track for trial in June 2013.


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