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US judge: no class action against tech giants' 'wage-control pact'

Disgruntled unpoached bods can continue battle, however

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A US judge is refusing to allow tech employees to band together and sue Apple, Google, and other tech firms in a class-action suit over those companies' alleged "no-hire pact" to keep wages down.

District Judge Lucy Koh said that the pact affected workers in too many different ways to allow them to be lumped together, and denied a motion to combine the employees' lawsuits into a class action.

The Department of Justice's antitrust division investigated the firms' employment practices from 2009, and concluded that they'd reached "facially anticompetitive" agreements.

The companies – including Intel, Adobe, and Pixar – didn't admit any wrongdoing or lawbreaking, but agreed not to enter into any other deals to stop each other from trying to recruit software engineers.

Since then, technology workers have brought civil lawsuits against the firms, which could expose more embarrassing communications between top execs, such as Steve Jobs threatening Palm's chief exec with a patent bashing if he didn't come in on the "gentleman's agreement" not to poach staff.

Judge Koh has denied the efforts to collectively seek damages on behalf of thousands of employees this time round, but she has left the door open, saying that lawyers can present additional evidence to convince her that a class-action suit has merit.

"The Court is keenly aware that Defendants did not produce significant amounts of discovery or make key witnesses available for depositions until after the hearing on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification," the ruling said.

Discovery (known as disclosure in English law) is the legal process whereby items "calculated to lead to admissible evidence" must be disclosed to the opposing party.

"Since the Class Certification hearing," the ruling continued, "Plaintiffs have conducted approximately fifty depositions of Defendants' high-ranking employees, including Defendants' CEOs and heads of Human Resources. In addition, during this time, Defendants have provided Plaintiffs with over ten thousand documents."

If the plaintiffs win class certification, it will give them much greater leverage in claiming financial settlements from the defendants.

As Judge Koh's ruling contends, "The Court believes that some of the recently produced discovery may affect Plaintiffs' ability to satisfy the predominance requirement for one or both of their proposed Classes." ®

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