Google Inc. may not have to turn over many of the documents sought by former workers of technology companies suing over claims the employers agreed to not recruit from each other.
U.S. District Judge Paul S. Grewal in San Jose, California, ruled yesterday that 17 of the 166 documents he reviewed, and which the former employees seek, are protected by attorney-client privilege. The documents are e-mails involving Bill Campbell, who has ties to Google and two other defendants, Intuit Inc. and Apple Inc.
The employees, by March 4, can ask the judge to determine whether the remaining documents at issue are privileged, according to the ruling.
The dispute is the latest over information sharing, or discovery, in a lawsuit filed in 2011 against seven technology companies. The other defendants are Intel Corp. Adobe Systems Inc., Walt Disney Co.’s Pixar animation unit and Lucasfilm Ltd.
Plaintiffs said in court filings that their discovery has confirmed that senior officers at the companies personally entered into non-solicitation agreements to eliminate competition for each other’s employees, kept the pacts hidden from the workers, supervised the implementation of the plans, and policed each other.
Campbell, the former chief executive officer of Intuit is now chairman of the company. He serves on Apple’s board and has been an adviser to Google.
Employees claim Campbell was a “co-conspirator of Google” and “primary actor and central participant in the defendants’ illegal activity,” according to a court filing.
Both sides are waiting for U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh in San Jose to rule whether the case will proceed as a group lawsuit, with a proposed class of employees including engineers, sous chefs, administrative assistants and others.
Dean Harvey, a lawyer representing the employees, didn’t immediately return a call or e-mail yesterday after regular business hours seeking comment on the ruling.
The San Jose case is In Re High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, 11-2509, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose). The previous case is U.S. v. Adobe Systems, 10-cv-1629, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).