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Judge approves first payout in antitrust wage-fixing lawsuit

Judge Lucy Koh gave the go-ahead to the $20 million settlement between three of the seven tech giants and their employees who had sued over widespread wage-fixing and collusion, according to a court document obtained by CNET on Friday.

The settlement, agreed to in October 2013 and mediated by attorney and professional mediator David Rottman, affected fewer than 8 percent of the 65,000 tech-firm employees involved in the class-action lawsuit. Members of the class who were employed by Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Intuit will receive around $3,840 each, with $9 million coming from Pixar and Lucasfilm, and $11 million from Intuit. The lawsuit accused those three companies along with Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, and Intel of conspiring at their highest levels to eliminate competitive hiring and artificially depress wages.Kelly Dermond, who represented the plaintiffs in the case for the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, said the settlement approved today, combined with the settlement agreed to by those four companies and their employees (rumored to have been around $325 million), represents "one of the biggest employment settlements ever."

That comment was supported by independent experts, who warned that the case could have far-reaching consequences for Silicon Valley if it went to trial.

"[T]hese companies work hard to present an image of a utopia for their employees, all kinds of perks, what a wonderful place to work these companies are," David Lowe, a labor and employment attorney at Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff and Lowe, told CNET in March. Apple and Google are "just like any other big company," he said.

Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Intuit did not respond to requests for comment.

The second settlement still awaits approval. Given normal court wait times for settlement approval, that's expected to happen sometime in the late summer or early fall.

Court documents revealed that the executive leadership of many of the companies was involved in crafting the anticompetitive agreements, including Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, George Lucas, Bruce Chizen, and others.

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