Execs' e-mails key in employee no-poaching lawsuit, judge says

E-mails between executives at Apple and Google reveal a shared belief that there was substantial financial benefit in agreements not to recruit each other's employees, the judge in the case says.

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E-mails reveal that executives at Apple and Google saw a substantial financial benefit to a mutual agreement not to recruit each other's employees, a federal judge said today.

The comments came in relation to a lawsuit brought by five former employees at various tech companies, alleging that an illegal conspiracy eliminated competition for talent. The lawsuit, filed in 2011, accuses Apple, Adobe Systems, Google, Pixar, Intel, and Intuit of conspiring to keep workers' salaries artificially low.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who is pondering whether to award class action status to the lawsuit, also ordered Apple CEO Tim Cook to be questioned by plaintiffs' attorneys, according to a Reuters report. Koh said the biggest challenge facing defendants was their belief that the collective approach to hiring was most efficient.

CNET has contacted Apple for comment and will update this report when we learn more.

An unredacted court filing in January 2012 recounted an e-mail exchange between late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs and then-Google CEO and Apple board member Eric Schmidt, in which Jobs politely asks Schmidt to stop trying to hire one of Apple's engineers.

"I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this," Jobs wrote to Schmidt on March 7, 2007.

According to the exchange detailed in the filing, Schmidt then sent the request on, saying: "I believe we have a policy of no recruiting from Apple and this is a direct inbound request. Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening? I will need to send a response back to Apple quickly so please let me know as soon as you can."

The exchange led to the immediate firing of the recruiter who had attempted to hire the engineer in question, with Google's staffing director writing back: "Please extend my apologies as appropriate to Steve Jobs" and noting that it was "an isolated incident."

The suit focuses specifically on the companies targeted by a 2009 antitrust investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. That investigation and the civil lawsuit that followed were settled back in September 2011, with the aforementioned companies agreeing to discontinue the non-solicitation agreements. Nonetheless, the suit says the companies are still profiting in the aftermath of the practice.