Apple, Google poaching settlement appears headed for approval

[SAN FRANCISCO] A US judge on Monday seemed satisfied with a proposed US$415 million settlement that would end a lawsuit in which tech workers accused Apple Inc , Google Inc and two other Silicon Valley companies of conspiring to hold down salaries.

US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, had previously rejected an earlier US$324 million deal as too low.

During a hearing on Monday, Judge Koh raised no objections about the size of the settlement as she had at an earlier court session.

While Judge Koh did not formally rule from the bench on whether she would preliminarily approve the new deal, she set another hearing date for final sign off of the US$415 million deal. "We are pleased court indicated she was going to approve the settlement," Kelly Dermody, an attorney for the workers, said after the hearing.

The plaintiffs alleged that Apple, Google, Intel Corp and Adobe Systems Inc agreed to avoid poaching each other's employees, thus limiting job mobility and, as a result, keeping a lid on salaries.

The antitrust class action lawsuit was filed in 2011. It has been closely watched because of the possibility that big damages might be awarded and for the opportunity to peek into the world of some of the United States' elite tech firms.

The case was based largely on emails in which Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt and some of their rivals detailed plans to avoid poaching each other's prized engineers.

Last August, Judge Koh rejected the previous US$324.5 million agreement after one of the plaintiffs objected. That worker supports the new deal.

In rejecting the US$324.5 million deal, Judge Koh repeatedly referred to a related 2013 settlement involving the Walt Disney Co and Intuit Inc.

Apple and Google workers got proportionally less than Disney workers, Judge Koh wrote, even though plaintiff lawyers had "much more leverage" against Apple and Google.

To match the earlier settlement, the deal with Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe would need to total at least US$380 million, Judge Koh wrote.


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