Trial to proceed in Silicon Valley employee 'no poaching' case

A judge ruled that the evidence should be considered in a jury trial beginning May 27

A lawsuit that accuses Google, Apple and other top Silicon Valley companies of driving down wages by agreeing not to hire each other's workers can go to trial, a judge ruled on Friday.

The case alleges that executives including former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt agreed not to poach the other's workers during a period between 2005 and 2009. The alleged agreements would violate state and federal antitrust laws. Adobe Systems and Intel are also named as defendants.

Similarities among the alleged agreements, and the defendants' knowledge of them and other matters, provide enough evidence that a jury must decide if there was an overarching conspiracy, Judge Lucy Koh wrote in a ruling Friday at the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California.

A trial date has been set for May 27.

"These agreements were negotiated by a small group of intertwining high-level executives at the defendant firms," Koh wrote.

In one instance, Jobs contacted Google co-founder Sergey Brin, telling him, "If you hire a single one of these people that means war," Koh wrote in her ruling.

In another case, Bill Campbell, chairman of Intuit's board of directors, emailed Brin, stating, "Steve Jobs called me again and is pissed that we are still recruiting his browser guy," according to Friday's ruling.

Intuit has since settled with the plaintiffs, as have Lucasfilm and Pixar. Google, Apple, Adobe and Intel did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

There's also evidence that the defendants shared confidential compensation information despite considering each other competitors for talent, Judge Koh wrote.

And evidence indicates there may have been other agreements between companies that are not defendants in the case, Koh said. For example, Jobs called Edward Colligan, former CEO at Palm, to ask him to be part of an anti-solicitation agreement and threatened patent litigation against Palm if it refused, the ruling says.

Some 64,000 technology workers could be affected by the suit, which was first filed in 2011 by five software engineers.

A case management hearing was held Thursday in San Jose, where attorneys for both sides said progress was being made toward a possible settlement.

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