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Google, Apple settle high-tech workers' poaching suit

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe Systems have settled a class-action lawsuit alleging they conspired to prevent their engineers and other highly sought technology workers from getting better job offers from one another.

The agreement announced Thursday averts a Silicon Valley trial that threatened to expose the tactics deployed by billionaire executives such as late Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs and former Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt to corral less affluent employees working on a variety of products and online services. Had they lost, the companies also faced the prospect of paying as much as US$9 billion.

The trial had been scheduled to begin May 27 in San Jose, California.

Terms of the settlement aren't being revealed yet. Those details will be provided in documents that will be filed in court by May 27, according to Kelly Dermody, an attorney representing the workers who contended they were cheated out of bigger paychecks.

“This is an excellent resolution,” Dermody said in a prepared statement.

Robert Van Nest, an attorney who notified the court of the settlement on behalf of all the employers, declined to comment.

Google and Apple declined to comment, too.

Intel Corp. spokesman Chuck Mulloy said the chipmaker denies any wrongdoing, but chose to settle to “to avoid the risks, burdens and uncertainties of ongoing litigation.”

Adobe System Corp. echoed Intel's remarks in its own statement. “We firmly believe that our recruiting policies have in no way diminished competition for talent in the marketplaces,” the software maker said.

The suit, which grew out of an earlier Justice Department investigation, was seeking US$3 billion in damages on behalf of 64,600 workers employed at some point from 2005 through 2009. Had damages been awarded in trial, they could have been tripled under antitrust laws forbidding U.S. companies from engaging in behavior that suppresses a free market.

A US$9 billion award would have translated into an average of nearly US$140,000 per worker. Programmers, software developers and computer scientists make an average of US$80,000 to US$110,000 annually, depending on their specific duties, according to the latest wage data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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