Judge OKs $170 Million Settlement of Animators’ Wage-Fixing Squabble

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – A $170 million settlement between major animation studios and the workers who produced their films received final approval from a federal judge Monday, sweeping aside several objections that threatened to hold the case up.

U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh granted final approval to a $170 million settlement of a case that involved nearly all the major animation studios and workers who complained they were victims of a vast conspiracy to suppress their wages for more than two decades.

“This a good recovery for the class,” Koh said during a May hearing where approval was preliminarily granted.

The only holdup that remained was an 11th-hour objection filed by former Disney producers Alicia Gladstone and Charles Williams, an impediment that plainly annoyed Koh during the hearing.

“I hoped we could resolve this today, close this case and be done with it, but now it looks like it’s not going to happen,” Koh said during the contentious May 18 hearing.

Gladstone and Williams said as producers they were entitled to a portion of the settlement, particularly as people in their positions at other involved studios were class members.

Class attorney Jason Friedman said Gladstone and Williams should take their case to court and not hold up a major settlement that stands to benefit workers victimized by decades-long wage theft. He threatened to bring a motion to sanction their lawyer and hang any fees on the objectors if the process caused an unnecessary delay.

Koh, who said objectors seem to appear when there is a large multimillion dollar settlement afoot, told the attorney for Gladstone and Williams, Joshua Furman, she was not afraid to sanction a lawyer.

The threat appears to have worked, as Gladstone and Williams withdrew their objection – paving the way for final approval on Monday.

“Although Mr. Williams and Ms. Goldstone withdrew their objections on June 2, 2017 … the court nevertheless considers the objections for the sake of completeness,” Koh wrote. “Mr. Williams and Ms. Goldstone are not class members, and accordingly have no standing to object.”

Both Williams and Goldstone have filed a lawsuit of their own in the Central District of California, which both Koh and Friedman agreed was an appropriate venue for their claims.

Koh also overruled the objections of a few others involved in the case before granting final approval.

Christian Haley argued he did not receive a full and fair settlement, an objection Koh cast aside by noting Haley didn’t understand “the risks, delays, and expenses of proceeding to trial.”

Jordan Sorenson also objected to the settlement, saying his name was used to further a cause in which he did not believe. Koh called Sorenson’s statement inaccurate.

“His name was not used in any phase of this litigation until he filed his objection,” the judge wrote.

The case hinged on an elaborate handshake agreement between studio executives to not cold-call each other’s employees to keep wages in line.

A class of animation workers and other associated employees who worked at major animation studios like Disney, Dreamworks, Sony Pictures, Blue Sky Studios and Pixar were unwittingly subjected to no-poach agreements by the executives who ran the studios.

Led by Steve Jobs, who founded Pixar in 1986, the studio executives agreed to broad no-poach agreements – leading to an artificial suppression of wages, according to the plaintiffs.

The case was similar to and emerged from a case, also presided over by Koh, over a no-poach agreement between Silicon Valley heavyweights like Apple, Adobe, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and eBay.

The studios do not acknowledge liability as part of the settlement.

Friedman works for Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Berkeley, California.


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