Lawyers talk of settlement in Silicon Valley employee-poaching case

In a hearing, both sides cited progress made with a mediator

Attorneys say they're making progress toward a possible settlement in Silicon Valley's employee poaching case, in which Google, Apple and other companies are accused of conspiring not to hire employees from other tech giants.

During a hearing on Thursday in a San Jose court, attorneys on both sides said they were working daily with a mediator to resolve the dispute, which involves alleged secret agreements among the firms not to poach each other's workers. Those agreements would violate federal antitrust laws.

"From our perspective, we don't need any rulings," said Robert Van Nest, an attorney for Google, during a case management discussion with Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court for Northern California. Discussions were ongoing with a mediator to possibly settle the claims, he said.

An attorney for the workers agreed. "I think if there's any possibility of settling this case, we have the right mediator for it," said Kelly Dermody.

The case dates back to 2011, when Silicon Valley software engineers alleged that Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intuit, Intel, Lucasfilm and Pixar engaged in an "overarching conspiracy" to fix and suppress employee compensation and to restrict employees' mobility. The class covered by the suit is estimated at 60,000 workers.

Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar have already settled with the plaintiffs.

A trial date has been set in May. During Thursday's hearing, the parties worked out a variety of logistical issues for a trial, partly in an attempt to streamline the evidence that could be used.

Some of the evidence consists of emails sent between Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in which they allegedly agreed not to hire employees working at each others' companies. Those agreements, plaintiffs allege, drove down their compensation and prevented them from moving to higher-paying positions in a competitive job market.

Much of the case focuses on "do-not-call lists," which plaintiffs say the companies used to instruct their recruiters not to call other firms about possible job openings.

The alleged agreement between the companies not to solicit each other's employees violates the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, the plaintiffs argue.

The defendants had tried to appeal a ruling by Judge Koh that allowed the case to be treated as a class action, but the appeals court rejected that petition.

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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