Blue Sky Studios, the studio behind the Ice Age franchise and The Peanuts Movie, has agreed to a settlement with animation industry professionals over allegations of an industry-wide collusion scheme in which major feature studios conspired to suppress wages and reduce competition for the highly-skilled employees that create the movies from which the studios make their fortunes.
The lead plaintiffs in the class action case, In re Animation Workers Antitrust Litigation — Robert Knitsch, David Wentworth and Georgia Cano — filed for court approval of the settlement agreement last week. The settlement provides for Blue Sky to pay $5.95 million to the class, that is, all animation and visual effects employees employed by the any of the defendants — not just Blue Sky — from 2001-2010 (though the period covers lesser time periods for some of the studios: for Blue Sky, as an example, the period covered is 2005-2010). Importantly, the court has yet to “certify” — that is, approve — the class. Even so, the settlement is a significant victory for the plaintiffs, and a worrisome development for the remaining defendant studios.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the defendant studios, including the Walt Disney Company, Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Lucasfilm, and ImageMovers Digital, conspired for years to keep costs down by paying their employees less than their worth and preventing them opportunities for career advancement. If proven, this behavior runs afoul of federal antitrust law and the studios can expect to pay hefty fines and suffer other penalties.