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Judge voices concern over settlement in Apple anti-poaching suit, may not approve agreement

During a court hearing on Thursday, a federal judge voiced concern over a proposed settlement reached in a class action lawsuit over alleged anti-poaching agreements involving Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe.

Anti-poaching suit's Class Representative Michael Devine. | Source: The New York Times

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge Lucy Koh was in court today to hear arguments surrounding a $324.5 million settlement the tech giants agreed to pay a class of employees that claim supposed anti-poaching measures resulted in lost wages, reports Reuters.

"I just have concerns about whether this is really fair to the class," Koh said. She added that plaintiffs had leverage going into the trial phase of the suit, citing email evidence from company CEOs that appeared to suggest the institution of unwritten no-poaching arrangements.

One particular exchange between late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs and former Google chief Eric Schmidt reportedly led to a stoppage of inter-company recruiting and the ultimate termination of a Google staffing director.

Additional correspondence between Jobs and other high-ranking executives pulled back the curtain on Silicon Valley's inner workings. Further evidence, including more emails, were expected to be disclosed during the trial.

Some have speculated that Apple pushed for a settlement in a bid to keep these potentially damning documents, which may tarnish the company's image and that of Jobs, out of the public arena.

Plaintiffs in the case originally sought $3 billion in damages from the tech giants, a figure that could have been trebled to $9 billion under federal law. Judge Koh previously approved related settlements reached by Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Intuit, the total of which came out to around $20 million.

In May, named plaintiff and class representative Michael Devine filed an objection to the settlement, saying defendants were getting off easy considering their considerable cash reserves.

A lawyer representing Google said in court today that the $324.5 million figure Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe agreed to pay is at a higher premium per employee compared to the already settled cases.

Despite her concerns, Koh also said she views the settlement as a positive for plaintiffs as the agreement would allow everyone to recover at least some money. With a class of around 74,000, however, the per-person payout would be on the order of only a few thousand dollars.

Judge Koh has yet to render a decision on the proposed settlement, meaning the companies may have renegotiate with plaintiffs' attorneys or face going to trial.