Pando

Animation workers suing major studios first learned about Hollywood wage theft by reading Pando

By Mark Ames , written on December 15, 2014

From The News Desk

As previously reported by Pando, workers in the computer animation industry have launched a major class action lawsuit against major Hollywood studios, accusing them of wage theft and other anti-trust behavior.

The lawsuit — filed in September against Disney, Dreamworks Animation, Sony, Rupert Murdoch’s Blue Sky Animation, and other studios — grew out of the landmark Silicon Valley wage theft class action lawsuit that Pando has been reporting on for almost a year.

Now new court documents reveal it was Pando's reporting on the behavior of Silicon Valley executives, and their entertainment counterparts, that first alerted animation workers to Hollywood wage-fixing.

The revelation of this publication's involvement in the class action lawsuit came during a hearing in early November in the federal District Court in San Jose, when attorneys representing the animators fought to get hold of Department of Justice documents relating to a federal investigation into the studios’ wage-collusion.

During the hearing, attorneys from Dreamworks Animation, Sony and Fox’s Blue Sky Animation confirmed that the Obama Administration’s DOJ antitrust division had investigated them, but that no further criminal or civil action was initiated. (Last summer, both the studios and the DOJ refused comment to PandoDaily on the existence of a DOJ investigation.)

During the hearing, the studios’ attorneys made several different appeals to Judge Lucy Koh not to hand over the DOJ documents to the plaintiffs attorneys, or at least not expedite the handover of the documents as requested by the plaintiffs.

Judge Koh appeared to be most concerned with the fact that the animators had waited so long before filing the lawsuit, and asked if they were not merely trolling the studios for a payoff.

According to the transcript, Judge Koh grilled the animators’ attorney, Daniel Small of Cohen Milstein:

“You obviously were aware of the stipulated judgments with the department of justice that happened in the district court in DC many years ago. Why did you wait?

“It does make me wonder. Was it just the big number of the settlement with the remaining defendants in the high-tech case and the potential big number of attorneys’ fees in that case? Why is this timing so late?” The animators’ attorney’s answer: No one had ever publicly reported the scope of the Hollywood side of the wage-theft conspiracy until Pando dug through the records and reported it last summer:

“[T]he direct answer to your honor’s question is that we did not focus on this as a law firm until we were approached by someone when the information came out, when various documents were under seal in the high-tech case in 2013, and then there ended up being some publicity about a year later in a technology online magazine called ‘PandoDaily’ that describes some of that evidence and that in turn alerted people in the industry, many members of our proposed class, that there might be a problem here that was different from the one that was sued on in the high-tech case.

“And when that—when we were alerted, your honor, to that information wasn’t that long ago, we very promptly and very diligently began investigating that.” The attorney explained in more detail how the Hollywood portion of the wage-fixing conspiracy had remained well-hidden for years:

“They keep saying the DOJ investigation started in 2009. You know, it wasn’t until two years later, you know, well into 2011 [sic] that it was identified that Pixar was one of the target subjects of that investigation, and then it was several months after that that it became known that Lucasfilm was involved in a conspiracy.

“But, again, there were no details about what conspiracy it was. Was it just with the high-tech companies like Google and the others, Apple, or was it some other conspiracy?

“...20/20 hindsight is a lot easier than what we knew before someone approached us about this issue.” Immediately after this argument was made, Judge Koh ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, expediting the release of the DOJ documents. Those documents, handed over in late November, revealed shocking communications between top studio executives discussing wages and recruitment on a daily basis, strongly suggesting that the Hollywood side of this wage theft story was far worse, and went on far longer, than previously reported.