IN THE NEWS: Top Animators Allege Conspiracy…and Judge Agrees

Blake Harris 08.25.2015

Last week, in an ongoing antitrust lawsuit against several major animation studios (i.e. Blue Sky, Disney, Sony), a California federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (animators Georgia Cano, Robert Knitsch, David Wentworth), enabling them to move forward with their claim and potentially go to trial. So what, exactly, is the claim?

The trio of artists allege that the major animation studios colluded to suppress wages–via a long-held “gentleman’s agreement”–and then fraudulently concealed the conspiracy. To support this claim, the plaintiffs have provided a variety of compelling evidence, including the following:

  • a 2005 e-mail from Lori McAdams, Pixar’s VP of Human Resources, that literally refers to a “gentleman’s agreement.” Her email states:  “With regard to [Industrial Light and Magic], Sony, Blue Sky, etc., we have no contractual obligations, but we have a gentleman’s agreement not to directly solicit/poach from their employee pool.
  • a 2007 email from Pixar President Ed Catmull to then-Disney chairman Dick Cook, stating, “we have an agreement with Dreamworks not to actively pursue each other’s employees.”
  • an annual meeting between the studios, held at the offices of Croner Company, to “set the parameters of a compensation survey” that “provides wage and salary ranges for the studios’ technical or artistic positions, broken down by position and experience level.”

This ruling is noteworthy not only because of the potential damage it may cause these major studios, but also because just four months earlier the very same judge had originally claimed that the animators’ case was barred by a statue of limitations. This time, however, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, determined that plaintiffs had sufficiently added details to their complaint so as to adequately present that the conspiracy was fraudulently concealed. From her ruling:

“Here, the Court finds that Plaintiffs’ allegations of pretextual statements regarding compensation, in combination with Plaintiffs’ allegations that Defendants actively concealed and ensured the secrecy of the conspiracy, are sufficient to allege ‘affirmative acts.”

We’ll keep an eye on this story and report with any pivotal updates.

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