Disney, DreamWorks Animation and Lucasfilm Slammed With Lawsuit Over ‘Non-Poaching’ Agreements

The class action suit alleges the companies sought to suppress wages by agreeing not to poach each other’s workers

Walt Disney Company, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Pixar and Lucasfilm were named as defendants in a class action lawsuit filed Monday in San Jose, Calif., that alleges the companies sought to suppress wages by agreeing not to poach each other’s workers, according to legal documents obtained by TheWrap.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Robert Nitsch, who was a senior character effects artist at DreamWorks Animation from 2007 to 2011.

“Visual effects and animation companies have conspired to systematically suppress the wages and salaries of those who they claim to prize as their greatest assets — their own workers,” the lawsuit stated. “The leaders and most senior executives of defendants Pixar, Lucasfilm and its division Industrial Light & Magic, DreamWorks Animation, The Walt Disney Company and its division Walt Disney Animation Studios, Digital Domain and others secretly agreed to work together to deprive thousands of their workers of better wages and opportunities to advance their careers at other companies.”

Also read: Dreamworks Animation Hit With Investor Class Action Lawsuit Over Financial Malfeasance

“We believe this complaint is utterly without merit and intend to defend against it vigorously,” a Walt Disney spokesperson told TheWrap. A DreamWorks Animation spokesperson said the studio had no comment on the lawsuit at this time.

The court papers note that the “conspiracy” was initiated by some of the “most recognizable names in American Entertainment,” including Apple Founder Steve Jobs, Pixar President Ed Catmull and George Lucas, founder of Lucasfilm.

“Jobs purchased Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division in 1986 and created a separate new company called ‘Pixar,’” the court filing said. “With Jobs as its CEO Pixar agreed with Lucasfilm that (a) they would not cold call each other’s employees; (b) they would notify the other company when making an offer to an employee of the other company, if that employee applied for a job notwithstanding the agreement not to cold call; and (c) the company making such an offer would not increase its offer if the company currently employing the employee made a counteroffer.”

The lawsuit also cites an email from Pixar’s Catmull and DreamWorks Animation stating that they “have an agreement with DreamWorks not to actively pursue each others employees.”

Also read: Buying Pixar Didn’t Kill Disney Animation — It Saved It

The legal paperwork also claims that high-level human resources and recruiting personnel met on an annual basis to discuss job titles and exchanged information to help “fix the salaries and wages of their workers within narrow ranges for the ensuing year.”

Lucasfilm and Pixar were defendants in an antitrust lawsuit in 2010, alongside Google, Apple, Adobe Systems, Intel Corp. and Intuit. The suit stated that the companies’ “no solicitation” agreement prevented skilled employees from receiving offers of better wages and job positions. The tech giants ended the suit by promising to end such practices for five years. Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed to pay $9 million in the settlement agreement.

The current lawsuit also names Industrial Lights and Magic, ImageMovers Digital and Sony Pictures Imageworks as defendants. The lawsuit was filed by Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll in Washington.

“The conspiracy deprived Plaintiff and other class members of millions of dollars which Defendants instead put to their bottom lines,” the lawsuit stated. “It did so at the same time that the films produced by these workers achieved world renown and generated billions of dollars in revenues in the United States and abroad.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.