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Plaintiff fights Apple, Google settlement in wage-fixing suit

A programmer who is part of the class action lawsuit against several tech giants says $324 million isn't enough.

A diagram from the suit demonstrating how the tech companies allegedly reached agreements on hires and compensation.
A diagram from the suit demonstrating how the tech companies allegedly reached agreements on hires and compensation. Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein

Major tech companies accused of keeping wages low and engaging in a no-poaching scheme may have reached a settlement with their employees, but that doesn't mean everyone is pleased.

In April, Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel agreed to settle with employees in the class action lawsuit out of court for a reported $324 million. Each of the nearly 65,000 employees included in the case will receive a few thousand dollars if the settlement, which must be approved by a court, is completed. The law firms representing the employees, meanwhile, stands to gain $75 million in fees, reported The New York Times.

Although few have said much about the settlement since it was announced, Michael Devine, a freelance programmer and member of the class, has spoken out against the deal. He believes the case should be heard in court, and he issued a letter asking US District Court Judge Lucy Koh, who will ultimately decide on the settlement, for "a chance at real justice."

Devine, one of a few class representatives -- a distinction earned by actively participating in the complaint and one that comes with additional fees for himself -- told The New York Times in an interview published on Monday that the $324 million is a ridiculous sum for what happened. He was especially concerned that the settlement was just one-tenth of what the class was seeking.

"As an analogy," Devine wrote to Koh, according to the Times, "if a shoplifter is caught on video stealing a $400 iPad from the Apple Store, would a fair and just resolution be for the shoplifter to pay Apple $40, keep the iPad, and walk away with no record or admission of wrongdoing? Of course not."

Had the case gone to trial as planned at the end of May, court filings indicate, the tech employees would have sought $3 billion. Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Intuit agreed to settle last year for a combined $20 million, covering 8 percent of the employees named in the suit.

The lawsuit started in 2011 when a former Lucasfilm engineer charged seven companies with wage collusion and anti-competitive, "no solicitation" agreements. As others filed similar complaints, Judge Koh merged them into one class action suit.

Over the next few years, evidence started to mount against the companies, including emails between Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. In one such exchange, Jobs complained of a Google recruiter attempting to poach one of his employees. Schmidt, then-CEO of Google, reassured Jobs that the person would be fired. Jobs allegedly forwarded the email to an HR person and attached a "smiley face." Similar scenarios played out in communications between Google and Intel, the plaintiffs charged.

For his part, Devine faces an uphill battle. In order for the settlement to be overturned before approval by the court, a substantial number of class members must rise up against it. So far, that hasn't happened. Device has, however, set up his own website outlining his "strong opposition to the tentative settlement in the case and to reach out to others who may feel the same and may wish to act."

CNET has contacted Devine for additional comment. We will update this story when we have more information.