SAN JOSE, Calif. — A jury trial is slated for May in a class action alleging that Adobe, Apple, Google and Intel unfairly agreed not to hire one another's engineers, and that they set pay ceilings based on salary data they shared.
The suit relies heavily on evidence from a Justice Department investigation concluded in 2010 that said Intuit, Lucasfilms, and Pixar used similar practices.
Court documents from the San Jose suit provide details from the DoJ investigation, including emails in which several top executives allegedly agreed not to recruit one another's top employees. As many as 64,000 programmers and engineers and billions of dollars in damages may be involved, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
The case shines a light on the intense hunt for talent concentrated in technology hot spots such as Silicon Valley, where recruiters cold call the best engineers in rival companies and offer significant signing bonuses. Samsung and Baidu are among the companies expanding here and working to access top engineers.
"It is hard for me to believe that this was the only time this happened," Joseph R. Saveri, a San Francisco lawyer for the plaintiffs, told us in an email. "The companies say they have these practices in place but they are justified for other reasons."
The DoJ settled the 2010 case; the companies agreed to end the practices, but the deal still allowed engineers to sue for damages. Intuit, Lucasfilms, and Pixar settled their class action for $20 million. The case against the other companies will be heard by Judge Lucy Koh of the US District Court for the Northern District of California this spring.
Engineers who worked for the defendant companies from 2005 through 2009 may qualify to join the suit. They have until March 19 to file a claim online.
Court documents show several instances in which chief executives appeared to agree not to recruit one another's engineers, and their recruiters allegedly created secret do not call lists. For example, one email from Bill Campbell (who held positions at Apple, Intuit, and Google) told Steve Jobs that Eric Schmidt, then Google's CEO, "got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple."
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