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There’s a natural friction between employers and employees when it comes to wages. Most companies want to pay less. Most people want to make more. It’s a healthy tension that works to slowly push wages up, at least if the better employees have the option of moving to rival companies. Unfortunately, if the latest Hollywood lawsuit is to be believed, workers in the animation industry haven’t had that ability for years because of an alleged no poaching agreement between some of the biggest companies in the business.
The specifics of the case are extremely complicated, but the basic allegations are pretty easy to make sense of. Recently, three workers filed a lawsuit against Walt Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Sony ImageWorks and more claiming the companies have been "systematically" sharing information about employees and refraining from hiring each other’s staff in order to keep costs down. An initial version of the lawsuit was thrown out by a judge for violating the statute of limitations, but the current form is moving forward.
In fact, according to Variety, Disney and company’s motion to have the lawsuit thrown out was officially rejected this week. That means, without a settlement, the case will go to trial at some point, though what the court will find at that juncture is unclear. The threshold for allowing a trial to move forward is a whole lot lower than that of finding a company or group of companies guilty and awarding damages. As such, observers probably shouldn’t read that much more into this, apart from reasoning there is at least a small amount of smoke surrounding the claims.
The plaintiffs are alleging that this unnamed agreement to not poach goes back to at least the 1980s when George Lucas and Pixar President George Catmull allegedly agreed to keep their hands off each other’s employees. That alleged handshake deal supposedly grew out into a larger agreement involving all the other companies named in the lawsuit, which include Pixar, LucasFilm, ImageMovers and Blue Sky Studios. If that’s the case, it’s a sizeable portion of the industry and clearly would have affected salaries across the board.
Of course that’s still an if at this point though. There are only three people suing all of these companies, and if there was a widespread problem with salary fixing, you would think more people would have wanted in on this lawsuit. Then again, they may have just been worried about reprecussions. So, reserve judgment until more information about the case goes public. It’s not as if all the evidence is on one side of the fence, and it’s not as if cases like this are always the most cut and dry.