$100 Million Settlement Reached over Lucasfilm / Pixar’s Secret Agreement to Suppress Salaries

$100 million sounds like a big settlement but its just the opening weekend take for some blockbuster movies that this class of plaintiffs worked on. Some of the big animation studios including Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks found themselves on the wrong side of a class action lawsuit as plaintiffs claimed the studios, in a super secret agreement between some CEO giants, agreed to suppress the the salary for animators. However, the parties were able to reach a big settlement.

There were a bunch of glass action suits filed regarding this matter. In one of the cases, the plaintiff, Georgia Cano, was a former employee of several of the defendants who worked on such movies as Polar Express and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a special effects digital artist. On behalf of herself, and other similarly situated artists, Cano claims that in the mid-1980’s, Lucasfilm founder, George Lucas, Pixar President, Ed Catmull and Pixar CEO, Steve Jobs, agreed to not solicit employees from each others’ organizations. That meant George wouldn’t have a Pixar employee over to the Skywalker Ranch, wine and dine them, and then offer them a higher paying job at Lucasfilm. This agreement grew to include the other named defendants over the next 25 years. Cano claims this agreement came to light in 2010 as part of a Department of Justice investigation into antitrusts and led to signed settlements by Pixar and Lucasfilm banning such anti-solicitation agreements.

As a result of the anti-solicitation agreements, plaintiff claims that salaries of animators were artificially suppressed. The plaintiff believes there are 50,000 such workers who were damaged by the alleged salary fixing. The plaintiff claims such conduct violates the Sherman Antitrust Act and other unfair competition and unlawful business practices acts. The plaintiff sought hundreds of millions of dollars, that amount tripled and her attorneys’ fees.

Back in 2015, in a 32-page decision, a Federal Court judge dismissed the similar lawsuits claiming they were too late in filing their complaint. For the claims asserted there is a four-year statute of limitations. The judge held that antitrust and unfair competition claims should accrue from the time plaintiffs were injured rather than from the time plaintiffs discovered their injuries and the judge said a vast majority of the alleged injury occurred between 2004 and 2007. The judge said the statute would toll if there was “continued violations” or “fraudulent concealment. However, the plaintiffs had no specific allegations or evidence that the violations continued and that while the meetings were secret “Plaintiffs do provide detailed allegations of when and where certain Defendants met and conspired, these allegations do not support the conclusion that Defendants took active, affirmative steps to mislead Plaintiffs about the existence of Plaintiffs’ claims”.
The plaintiffs amended their complaint, refiled the aforementioned lawsuit, and reached a settlement with all defendants. A $100-million-dollar settlement was reached with Disney, Pixar, and Lucasfilms and a similar settlement was reached back in July with the other defendants back in July. It seems like the defendants would rather the animation workers just “go away” and not have a lengthy court battle, which is something the workers would likely not be able to afford and would only consume time for the studios. Details on the settlement are on the hush hush but safe to say that such practices like non-poaching are all erased. (Get it?? Animators, erased. It was a stretch.)