(Adds quotes from court)
By Dan Levine
SAN JOSE, Calif., June 19 A U.S. judge on
Thursday 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
Tech employees filed a class action lawsuit against Apple
Inc, Google Inc, Intel Inc and Adobe
Systems Inc 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.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California must
approve the deal. At a court hearing on Thursday, Koh said the
plaintiffs had leverage going into trial against the defendants,
given the strength of the evidence in the case.
Several 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.
"I just have concerns about whether this is really fair to
the class," Koh said, adding that she had not made a decision
about whether to approve the deal.
Plaintiff attorney Kelly Dermody said the workers faced
serious risks on appeal had the case gone forward, especially
since the U.S. Supreme Court has been skeptical of large class
"Those are very, very real risks for plaintiffs," Dermody
said, adding that the settlement was the largest antitrust
employee deal ever reached "by far."
Koh was skeptical the Supreme Court would get involved.
"If there was going to be good case for further restricting
class actions, I'm not sure this is the one," she said.
However, 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.
Koh has previously approved separate settlements totaling
$20 million reached by Walt Disney Co's Lucasfilm and
Pixar units, and by Intuit Inc.
One of the four named plaintiffs, Michael Devine, filed an
objection saying the settlement let the latest wave of companies
off too easily. Daniel Girard, an attorney for Devine, suggested
that Koh send both sides back to the negotiating table in the
hopes of obtaining a larger amount.
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.
"You have Mr. Devine say, 'Well it should have been a little
bit more?' Baloney," Van Nest said.
(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Chris Reese, James
Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)