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Jan 19, 2015

A $415 million settlement proposed by four tech giants could become one of the largest anti-poaching awards if a federal judge approves.

Apple, Google, Intel Corp and Adobe Systems agreed to the amount in a court filing yesterday. A previous offer of almost $325 million was rejected last summer by the judge in the class action case, which was filed in 2011.

Some 64,000 workers are plaintiffs in the lawsuit which alleges the four companies, and three others, secretly agreed not to hire each other’s employees, and, more specifically, not to cold-call each other’s employees.

Unflattering picture of Steve Jobs revealed

The alleged conspiracy began in 2005 and continued until the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation. In 2010, Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar agreed to a settlement that didn’t require any payments or admission of guilt, but prohibited the companies from “entering, maintaining or enforcing any agreement that in any way prevents any person from soliciting, cold calling, recruiting, or otherwise competing for employees.

Months later, in 2011, the class action suit was filed, which claimed the anti-poaching agreement  not only was a violation of anti-trust laws, but also artificially suppressed wages. During discovery, unflattering documents and emails emerged painting Apple’s deceased founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, as the orchestrator of the agreement.

Although the companies maintain they did nothing wrong, three of the defendants — Intuit Inc., Pixar Animation Studios, and Lucasfilm, which was not a part of the Justice Department action — settled in 2013 for $20 million.  Federal District Court Judge Lucy Koh rejected as too low a  $324.5 million settlement offer by the four bigger companies, saying it was outside “the range of reasonableness.” At the time, she suggested an amount of at least $380 million.

If the judge approves this current settlement proposal, which appears likely, participants in the lawsuit could receive about $5,200 each after attorney fees.