Judge says $415 million settlement in Silicon Valley hiring case is 'substantial'

Workers alleged 'no-poach' agreements between Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe drove down their wages

A judge has approved a US$415 million settlement in a Silicon Valley employee hiring case, calling the amount "substantial" to settle claims that Apple, Google, Adobe Systems and Intel conspired not to hire each other's workers.

The amount is fair and adequate, particularly in light of the risk that a jury may not have awarded damages, federal Judge Lucy Koh wrote in a Tuesday order in the U.S. district court for northern California.

The settlement also avoids what would have been complex and expensive litigation, she wrote.

The lawsuit constitutes one of the more high-profile class action lawsuits in Silicon Valley. Engineers alleged a handful of companies entered into secret "no-poach" agreements not to hire their workers, which drove down their wages and restricted their ability to move between jobs. A chunk of evidence in the case consists of emails sent between the late Apple chief Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley executives like Google chairman Eric Schmidt and cofounder Sergey Brin.

Were the case to go to trial, it might have shed a damaging light on the business practices of some of the most successful technology companies in the world.

Judge Koh had previously rejected a proposed earlier settlement of $324.5 million, calling it too low. The companies increased their offer to $415 million this past January.

Her preliminary approval on Tuesday of the larger settlement is subject to further consideration at a final approval hearing set for July 9.

Intel and Adobe declined to comment on Koh's approval of the settlement. Apple and Google did not immediately respond to comment.

Kelly Dermody, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said via email she was pleased with the approval of the settlement. Robert Van Nest, an attorney for Google, declined to comment.

Some 64,000 workers employed in technical, creative and research and development roles are represented in the class action suit. They have until May 21 to opt out or object to the settlement agreement. Objections will be heard during the July court hearing.

Three other defendants in the case -- Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar -- previously settled with the workers for about $20 million.

If the $415 million settlement is approved, attorneys could take home up to $83 million in fees.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

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