Cartoon Artists Sue Animation Studios for Fixing Wages

According to a federal antitrust class action lawsuit filed on September 8, Sony Pictures, Walt Disney, its subsidiaries LucasFilm and Pixar, and other giants in the animation industry have been conspiring to fix workers’ wages and impede their career opportunities. In the suit, former DreamWorks senior character effects artist Robert A. Nitsch Jr., who also worked on hair and clothing effects at Sony Pictures Imageworks, alleges that the animation studios colluded against the advancement of their own digital artists, animators, and the rest of their technical workforce, depriving them of “millions of dollars which defendants instead put to their bottom lines.”

The complaint, as reported by Courthouse News, alleges that the industry did this at a time of unprecedented financial success: “It did so at the same time the films produced by these workers achieved world renown and generated billions in the United States and abroad.”

According to Nitsch, the practices date back to 1986, when Steve Jobs bought the computer graphics division of LucasFilm from George Lucas, and launched Pixar Animation Studios. The veteran animator claims that Jobs, Lucas, and Pixar president Ed Catmull agreed then not to compete for each other’s employees. Since then, he alleges, the agreement has expanded to sharing information about raises and job offers.

“Whenever a studio threatened to disturb the conspiracy’s goals of suppressing wages and salaries by recruiting employees and offering better compensation, the leaders of the conspiracy took steps to stop them,” the complaint filed by Nitsch explains. “Defendants continue to discuss and agree on wage and salary ranges and prohibit active solicitation of other defendants’ employees through the present.” The complaint even quotes Lucas as saying: “the rule we always had [was] we cannot get into a bidding war with other companies because we don’t have the margins for that sort of thing.”

In the document, he likens the practice to that described in a similar class action lawsuit filed four years ago against Google, Apple, Adobe, Pixar, and others. Nitsch is seeking a permanent ban on agreements amid animation studios to not try to hire away each other’s artists, and compensatory damages.

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