Judge worried about tech employment settlement

A US judge said she had concerns about approving a $324.5 million settlement involving Apple, Google and two other tech companies in a lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to avoid poaching each other’s workers.

US District Judge Lucy Koh said that the employers had considerable power over their employees and she was worried that the settlement did little to help them out.

Tech employees filed a class action lawsuit against Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe in 2011. The case has been closely watched due to the potentially high damages award and the opportunity to peek into the world of Silicon Valley’s elite.

The four companies agreed to settle with the plaintiffs in April for a total of $324.5 million. The plaintiffs had planned to ask for about $3 billion in damages at trial, which could have tripled to $9 billion under antitrust law.

Koh said the employees should have cleaned the employer’s clock  given the strength of the evidence in the case.

Emails showed Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and some of their Silicon Valley rivals hatching plans to enforce their no-poaching agreement.

She aid that she had concerns about whether this is really fair to the class given what they could have got out of the case if they took it further.

Plaintiff attorney Kelly Dermody said the workers faced serious risks on appeal had the case gone forward, especially since the US Supreme Court has been sceptical of large class action lawsuits.

Koh was sceptical the Supreme Court would get involved and said that if there was a good case for further restricting class actions,  she was not sure that this was it.

Koh also praised the settlement for allowing all the plaintiffs to recover money, regardless of whether they filed a paper claim. Workers would receive a few thousand dollars each on average.

However, Google attorney Robert Van Nest said Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe are paying a higher premium to settle the case than Disney and Intuit did, as calculated by the number of employees from each company in the class.