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Could Silicon Valley's 'no hire' scandal have its day in court?

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In the mid-2000s, the leaders of Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, Pixar, Intuit, and Lucasfilm tried to get away with paying employees less than they might have deserved. According to court documents, CEOs including Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt tried to hide an illegal "gentleman's agreement" to keep salaries low by not poaching one another's workers. "I would not like this broadly known," wrote Intel CEO Paul Otellini at the time. "I don't want to create a paper trail over which we might be sued later," wrote Schmidt.

But instead of being hauled off to court, the companies hammered out a class-action settlement for pennies on the dollar. Now, one of the lead plantiffs wants to change that.

In a rare occurance, one of the named plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit is opposing a deal. Michael Devine, a former Adobe software developer, is asking Judge Lucy Koh to reject the settlement. He claims his own lawyers went behind his back to secure a "grossly inadequate" sum of money for affected employees, one that won't make companies blink at flaunting the law in the future. "We want our day in court," says Devine.

"We want a chance at achieving real justice."

In a letter to Judge Koh (PDF), Devine writes that the $324 million settlement would amount to just one-tenth of the $3 billion that some 64,000 tech workers are estimated to have lost over the course of the gentlemen's agreements. "If a shoplifter is caught on video stealing a $400 iPad from the Apple Store, would a fair and just resolution be for the shoplifter to pay Apple $40, keep the iPad, and walk away with no record or admission of wrongdoing?" asks the former Adobe employee.

Though Devine stands to make more than most from the current settlement — $20,000 for being a named plaintiff  — he told The New York Times that ethics were at stake. "The tech industry is ethically challenged. Customers and the government don't fully understand technology and therefore don't know when the law is broken. I'm attracted to the industry for the opportunities for innovation but repulsed by the ease with which folks can cheat and get away with it."

Devine is just one of 64,000 plaintiffs, though. Others would need to join his cause. He's erected a website, Tech Worker Justice, and is currently looking for new lawyers to take up the issue.

The tech companies also settled with the Department of Justice back in 2010, in an agreement which prohibited them from continuing the anticompetitive 'no hire' practice for at least five years.