Sony and Blue Sky's $19M Settlement With Animators Gets Preliminary Court Approval

Ice Age 2 Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Photofest

Ice Age 2 Still - H 2016

Sony Pictures Animations and Blue Sky Studios are one step closer to being free of the anti-poaching pact lawsuit brought by visual effects workers, as a California federal judge on Thursday granted their motions for preliminary settlement approval. 

At this stage, the court doesn't consider final approval but whether the deals are "fair, reasonable, and adequate."

"The Court finds that the agreed-upon consideration of $5.95 million for Blue Sky and $13 million for Sony Pictures is fair and reasonable based on the circumstances, risks involved, and significant recovery from two of the companies whose share of employee-years comprise 20.3% of the class," U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh wrote. 

In September 2014, ex-DreamWorks Animation employee Robert Nitsch Jr. sued his former company, along with the others, claiming the animation studios are engaging in anti-competitive practices by agreeing not to poach each other's employees. The collusion, Nitsch claims, prevents workers from obtaining better jobs and keeps wages artificially low.

DreamWorks Animation, Two Pic MC, Pixar and The Walt Disney Company are still fighting the lawsuit, which was certified as a class action in May.

As a result of the settlements, Koh explains the remaining defendants would be held liable for "all damages caused by the conspiracy, including damages caused by Blue Sky and Sony Pictures."

Last month, Disney and DreamWorks asked for an interlocutory appeal, so the 9th Circuit would hear the case before it gets to trial at the district court. The studios are arguing that the four-year statute of limitations on federal antitrust claims bars the suit, unless plaintiffs can prove the companies fraudulently concealed their actions — which is further complicated by the fact that there are potentially 10,000 visual effects workers involved. 

Class members have until Sept. 29 to opt out of the settlement.