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Judge has reservations about Apple's settlement in anti-poaching suit


Judge Lucy Koh has some reservations regarding the recent settlement agreement Apple and a number of other tech companies reached as part of a class action suit regarding anti-poaching agreements.

As part of the settlement, the companies involved agreed to pay class members US$324.5 million to be divided up among them -- about 64,000 individuals in total. That's ostensibly a hefty sum, but comes out to about $5,000 per plaintiff. It also pales in comparison to the $3 billion amount plaintiffs were hoping to secure with a trial.

Now comes word via Reuters that Koh, who must approve all terms of the settlement, isn't necessarily sure the proposed deal is a fair one for the plaintiffs.

At a court hearing on Thursday, Koh said the plaintiffs had leverage going into trial against the defendants, given the strength of the evidence in the case.

Several emails showed Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and some of their Silicon Valley rivals hatching plans to enforce their no-poaching agreement.

"I just have concerns about whether this is really fair to the class," Koh said, adding that she had not made a decision about whether to approve the deal.

Recall that the origin of the suit stems from under the table agreements Apple and other tech companies like Intel, Google, and Adobe adhered to whereby they each agreed not to recruit employees from one another. The ensuing lawsuit alleged that these agreements worked to reduce employee negotiating power, ultimately lowering the salaries affected employees might have otherwise earned.

As for Koh's statement that the plaintiffs in the case had significant leverage, that's hard to dispute. Court documents over the past year or so relayed a number of incriminating emails from executives like Steve Jobs. In one particularly noteworthy example, it was revealed that Jobs angrily called Google co-founder Sergey Brin after discovering Google's efforts to recruit members from Apple's Safari team.

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