Tech employees filed a class action lawsuit against Apple Inc AAPL.O,
Google Inc GOOGL.O, Intel Inc INTC.O and Adobe Systems Inc ADBE.O in
2011. The case has been closely watched due to the potentially high
damages award and the opportunity to peek into the world of Silicon
The four companies agreed to settle with the plaintiffs in April for
a total of $324.5 million. The plaintiffs had planned to ask for
about $3 billion in damages at trial, which could have tripled to $9
billion under antitrust law.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California must approve
the deal. At a court hearing on Thursday, Koh said the plaintiffs
had leverage going into trial against the defendants, given the
strength of the evidence in the case.
Several emails showed Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs, former
Google CEO Eric Schmidt and some of their Silicon Valley rivals
hatching plans to enforce their no-poaching agreement.
"I just have concerns about whether this is really fair to the
class," Koh said, adding that she had not made a decision about
whether to approve the deal.
Plaintiff attorney Kelly Dermody said the workers faced serious
risks on appeal had the case gone forward, especially since the U.S.
Supreme Court has been skeptical of large class action lawsuits.
"Those are very, very real risks for plaintiffs," Dermody said,
adding that the settlement was the largest antitrust employee deal
ever reached "by far."
Koh was skeptical the Supreme Court would get involved.
"If there was going to be good case for further restricting class
actions, I'm not sure this is the one," she said.
However, Koh also praised the settlement for allowing all the
plaintiffs to recover money, regardless of whether they filed a
paper claim. Workers would receive a few thousand dollars each on
[to top of second column]
Koh has previously approved separate settlements totaling $20
million reached by Walt Disney Co's DIS.N Lucasfilm and Pixar units,
and by Intuit Inc INTU.O.
One of the four named plaintiffs, Michael Devine, filed an objection
saying the settlement let the latest wave of companies off too
easily. Daniel Girard, an attorney for Devine, suggested that Koh
send both sides back to the negotiating table in the hopes of
obtaining a larger amount.
However, Google attorney Robert Van Nest said Apple, Google, Intel
and Adobe are paying a higher premium to settle the case than Disney
and Intuit did, as calculated by the number of employees from each
company in the class.
"You have Mr. Devine say, 'Well it should have been a little bit
more?' Baloney," Van Nest said.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Chris Reese, James Dalgleish
and Jonathan Oatis)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.