Google, Apple Involved In Huge Wage-Theft Lawsuit

<b class="credit">Photo composite by Mariya Pylayev/AOL; Paul Sakuma/AP, Getty Images</b>Apple CEO Steve Jobs, left, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, right.
Photo composite by Mariya Pylayev/AOL; Paul Sakuma/AP, Getty ImagesApple CEO Steve Jobs, left, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, right.

Major players in Silicon Valley may have colluded to keep down employees' wages by entering secret non-recruitment pacts with each other, according to a class action lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice and reported by PandoDaily.

Emails uncovered by the DOJ show that top executives at Apple, Google and others entered allegedly illegal agreements to stifle wage growth and save their companies' margins. The suit claims that the arrangements succeeded in artificially lowering wages and have in effect stolen an estimated $9 billion from over 100,000 tech employees. The class-action lawsuit got final approval from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week, despite attempts by Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe to have it thrown out.

Tech blog PandoDaily goes into great depth about the suit.

Late Apple founder Steve Jobs was not subtle in threats to competing companies that they should not poach Apple talent. After pressing Google executive Eric Schmidt to agree to keep his company's hands off Apple employees, he went after Adobe for trying to recruit a low-level worker. Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen replied in an email exchange that first appeared on Pando:

I thought we agreed not to recruit any senior level employees.... I would propose we keep it that way. Open to discuss. It would be good to agree.

To which Jobs responded:

OK, I'll tell our recruiters they are free to approach any Adobe employee who is not a Sr. Director or VP. Am I understanding your position correctly?

Chizen promptly yielded:

I'd rather agree NOT to actively solicit any employee from either company ..... If you are in agreement, I will let my folks know.

At least one tech magnate seemed to know this was illegal. In 2005, Schmidt instructed a Google business executive to keep the agreement secret and only discuss it "verbally, since I don't want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later," reported Pando.

The wage-theft ring goes as far back as 1986. The lawsuit also implicates Lucasfilm and Pixar (eventually sold to Apple), citing a philosophy adopted by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. Court documents state:

George Lucas believed that companies should not compete against each other for employees, because '[i]t's not normal industrial competitive situation.' As George Lucas explained, 'I always - the rule we had, or the rule that I put down for everybody,' was that 'we cannot get into a bidding war with other companies because we don't have the margins for that sort of thing.'

The most unsettling thing about the correspondence is its setting. Silicon Valley, Apple and Google in particular, publicly lauds innovation and competition. The tech community was built on and claims to continue to thrive off these two things. The attitudes and actions of top executives in the industry, however, clearly show that tech heavyweights will do everything in their power to uphold their bottom lines – and that includes bullying lesser executives of competing companies to play by their rules. Here's to hacking capitalism.

Read the lawsuit in its entirety below.

October 24, 2013 Class Cert Order