On May 26, 2016, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh certified a class of animation and visual effects employees who worked for DreamWorks, Disney and other Hollywood heavyweights, allowing them to proceed as a class in their antitrust lawsuit over an alleged anti-poaching conspiracy.

In February 2016, a proposed class of animators laid out their case for class certification, telling the court that years of collusion affected animators across six studios. 

Calling the case a “textbook” class action, the proposed class said the best way to handle the allegations against six studios would be through a class action. According to the motion, the studios allegedly colluded to set compensation for animators and prevent each other from poaching employees for years.

Case Background

For years, the country’s leading visual effects and animation studios have been conspiring to limit their workers’ employment opportunities and suppress their wages, according to a class action complaint filed by Cohen Milstein. DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, Lucasfilm, The Walt Disney Company, and other studios are all named as defendants in the suit.

The lawsuit was brought by Robert A. Nitsch, Jr., a former employee of DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks. According to the complaint, Pixar and Lucasfilm reached an agreement in the 1980s not to cold-call each other’s employees, to notify each other when an employee of one company applied for a job with the other, and not to bid against each other with successive counteroffers. By the mid-2000s, the two companies had spread the agreements throughout the industry, to companies including DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Sony Pictures Animation, Digital Domain, and ImageMovers Digital.

The complaint alleges that the defendant studios have agreed upon wage and salary ranges in a further effort to keep down labor costs. The studios’ human resources departments hold an “annual get-together,” also known as their annual “salary council,” along with other meetings and communications throughout the year. Through these contacts, they fixed wage and salary ranges at depressed levels.

“Our investigation has revealed a clear and troubling picture of collusion by the studios against their own workers,” said Daniel A. Small, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and co-Chair of Cohen Milstein’s antitrust practice group. “Visual effects artists and animators are the lifeblood of modern movies, and they deserve to receive fair pay determined by lawful competition, not secret deals to suppress their wages. We plan to seek compensation for the wrongs done to the class.”

The complaint was filed in the Northern District of California, where Pixar and Lucasfilm were previously sued by a subset of their employees as part of In re High-Tech Employees Antitrust Litigation. The new lawsuit involves defendants, allegations and workers who were not part of High Tech Employees.  Pixar and Lucasfilm settled High Tech Employees last year, after settling with the Department of Justice in 2010.

In addition to Mr. Small, the plaintiffs are represented by Brent W. Johnson and Daniel Silverman of Cohen Milstein as well as attorneys at Susman Godfrey LLP and Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.