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Apple, Google workers head to court on $415 million poaching settlement

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Workers accusing Apple, Google and two other Silicon Valley companies of conspiring to hold down salaries will try on Monday to win approval of a $415 million settlement from a U.S. judge who rejected an earlier deal as too low.

The plaintiffs alleged that Apple Inc, Google Inc, Intel Corp and Adobe Systems Inc agreed to avoid poaching each other’s employees, thus limiting job mobility and, as a result, keeping a lid on salaries.

The antitrust class action lawsuit was filed in 2011. It has been closely watched because of the possibility that big damages might be awarded and for the opportunity to peek into the world of some of the United States’ elite tech firms.

The case was based largely on emails in which Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt and some of their rivals detailed plans to avoid poaching each other’s prized engineers.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California has scheduled a hearing for Monday to decide whether to give the new deal preliminary approval.

Last August, she rejected the previous $324.5 million agreement after one of the plaintiffs objected. That worker supports the new deal, his attorney has said.

In rejecting the $324.5 million deal, Koh repeatedly referred to a related 2013 settlement involving the Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> and Intuit Inc <INTU.O>. Apple and Google workers got proportionally less than Disney workers, Koh wrote, even though plaintiff lawyers had “much more leverage” against Apple and Google.

To match the earlier settlement, the deal with Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe “would need to total at least $380 million,” Koh wrote.

Among the arguments in favor of the new settlement, plaintiff attorneys have argued that the risks of trial are very high and pointed to a December verdict in favor of Apple on antitrust claims over its iPod digital music players. That case had been litigated for 10 years, and the plaintiffs received nothing.

The hiring case is In Re: High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California 11-cv-2509.

(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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