In 2014, a lawsuit was filed that alleged several of the largest animation companies in the United States had conspired with each other to create anti-poaching policies. These policies prevented each company from pursuing employees currently working at another company, thus suppressing wages and salaries. This behavior echoed that investigated by the Department of Justice regarding tech companies Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, and Intuit in 2012. After that investigation revealed the same antitrust behavior alleged in this case, the parties settled for $415 million dollars.

The named defendants in this initial lawsuit were DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Blue Sky Studios, Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm, and Pixar Animation Studios. Plaintiffs included animators and visual effect artists who worked at these companies during a specified period of time from 2004-2010.

The case began with the defendant companies joining together to fight the claims of antitrust behavior. Although there seemed to be a strong case for dismissal, the plaintiffs cleared several hurdles to keep the lawsuit going. Even though the statute of limitations had expired on some of the claims, a District Court judge allowed the claims to go forward after finding the companies had fraudulently concealed their behavior. Additionally, the plaintiffs were able to certify a class that allowed them to serve over 10,800 employees with notice of the lawsuit, drastically increasing the size of the group and injuries suffered.

Blue Sky Studios was the first to reach a settlement in March of this year, agreeing to a cash payment of $6M for the plaintiffs. Following suit in April, Sony agreed to a settlement totaling $13M. DreamWorks became the most recent studio to settle, reaching an agreement this month to pay $50M. With these settlements in place, the only remaining defendant is Disney and its divisions at Lucasfilm and Pixar.

What began as animation giants banding together to fight what they suggested were meritless claims turned into just Disney, now with a decision to continue the fight to court or settle as its counterparts had done. Disney may not want to appear as if it is admitting any wrongdoing; however, settling may very well be the best option here. With the plaintiffs already winning on some of the more difficult issues and the evidence mounting, Disney’s best path is likely to just “let it go”: follow the others, settle the lawsuit, and work on improving policies to ensure this behavior is eradicated entirely.

–Jenna Rowan

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