Apple, other tech firms formally agree to $406m hiring accord

The logo of Apple Inc. is seen on the wall of an Apple Store in Tokyo, Japan, on 16 May 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA
The logo of Apple Inc. is seen on the wall of an Apple Store in Tokyo, Japan, on 16 May 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA

(REUTERS) - Four major Silicon Valley companies have formally agreed to pay US$324.5 million (S$406 million) to settle claims brought by employees accusing them of colluding not to poach each other's talent.

The settlement, between Apple Inc, Google Inc , Intel Corp, Adobe Systems Inc and roughly 64,000 workers, was disclosed in papers filed late Thursday with the federal court in San Jose, California.

US District Judge Lucy Koh has been asked to preliminarily approve the accord at a June 19 hearing, over an objection by one of the four named plaintiffs. That plaintiff, Michael Devine, said the settlement let the companies off too easily.

The payout was originally reported by Reuters but not officially confirmed. Lawyers for the plaintiffs may seek up to 25 per cent of the settlement amount in legal fees.

Filed in 2011, the lawsuit accused Silicon Valley companies of conspiring to keep wages down and limit competition.

The case has been closely watched because of the potential US$9 billion of damages sought, and its insight into how Silicon Valley operates.

Among the revelations were pointed emails from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs that at times admonished then-Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt to stop raiding his company.

Thursday's settlement gives workers only a few thousand dollars each on average.

The companies' combined profit in their latest fiscal years was about US$60 billion, with three-fifths coming from Apple.

In court papers, two law firms representing the plaintiffs said Devine's objection should not doom what they consider a fair and reasonable settlement for an antitrust case.

They pointed to a July 2012 jury verdict in the same court, finding that Toshiba Corp conspired to fix prices in the liquid crystal display market but awarding just US$87 million of damages, one-tenth of what was sought.

"This settlement is in the best interests of the class and is fully informed by class counsel's analysis of the evidence, case law, and risks at trial," Kelly Dermody, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the poaching case, wrote in a court filing.

Devine did not immediately respond on Friday to a request for comment. Dermody and Joseph Saveri, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to similar requests.

Koh on May 16 approved separate settlements totaling US$20 million over alleged poaching by Walt Disney Co's Lucasfilm and Pixar units, and by Intuit Inc.

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