Studios Accused of Wage, Hiring Conspiracy in Lawsuit
September 10, 2014

Studios Accused of Wage, Hiring Conspiracy in Lawsuit

As if the job market for animators has not been difficult enough to navigate these past years, now comes another devastating wave for those trying to eek out a living at some of the industry’s biggest studios. 

A lawsuit filed early this week in San Jose, California, accuses Walt Disney Company, Digital Domain 3.0, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sony Pictures Animation, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and ImageMovers – perennial stalwarts in the visual effects and animation industries – of conspiring to suppress wages and salaries by agreeing not to poach one another’s workforce. And, as an effect, this prevented thousands of their workers from obtaining higher wages and better opportunities by seeking employment at another major facility (named in the suit).

The lawsuit was initiated on behalf of Robert Nitsch, a senior character effects artist at DreamWorks Animation from 2007 to 2011, by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which specializes in corporate class-action lawsuits.

The lawsuit says those negatively impacted by the so-called conspiracy include animators, digital artists, software engineers, and other technical and artistic workers “who are the creative genius and dedicated workhorses behind such wonders as Wall-E (Pixar), the Shrek series (DreamWorks Animation), the Harry Potter adaptations (Lucasfilm/ILM) and the Transformers series (Digital Domain), among others.”

The filing further states: “The conspiracy deprived Plaintiff and other class members of millions of dollars which Defendants instead put to their bottom lines. It did so at the same time that the films produced by these workers achieved world renown and generated billions of dollars in revenues in the United States and abroad.”

And, the claim is not limited to employee poaching. “The conspiracy among the visual effects and animation companies was not limited to the non-solicitation agreements. The most senior personnel from the human resources and recruiting departments of the companies met yearly to discuss job titles to be included in an industry compensation survey. They used meetings and events outside the survey meeting to exchange information about wages and salaries and fix the salaries and wages of their workers within narrow ranges for the ensuing year,” the document states.

For the past several years, animators have struggled to find and keep employment as studio after studio – whether animation, games, or feature effects – have closed their doors while trying to compete with facilities receiving subsidies in certain countries (and some states) and with the bidding process/contract process unique to the industry that often leaves studios vulnerable while meeting the demands of directors that extend beyond the contracts.