Internal email exchanges show that executives at firms including Apple and Google believed that a wide-ranging agreement not to steal each others' staff would be financially beneficial, according to Reuters.
As a result, Apple's CEO Tim Cook is to be questioned for "four hours" by plaintiff attorneys, as ruled by Judge Lucy Koh at a hearing in a San Jose, California federal court on Thursday. In addition, Google's attorneys have agreed that executive chairman Eric Schmidt can be questioned next month.
The anti-poaching case involves five former employees alleging that Apple, Google, Intel and three others secretly agreed not to steal each others' staff. The alleged, illegal head-hunting pacts were apparently put in place as top executives at the companies agreed hiring employees collectively rather than bargaining with individuals would not only eliminate competition for staff, but result in financial gains for each firm.
U.S. Judge Lucy Koh believes that emails sent by executives show there is evidence that Apple and Google had some kind of gentlemen's agreement in place, and now the judge has to decide whether to turn the lawsuit into a class action -- which would give the accusing party more leverage to demand a higher financial settlement.
Koh has not yet ruled on this matter, but civil damages could potentially reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
The iPad and iPhone maker, along with other defendants, attempted to have the case thrown out last year, but this plea was dismissed as Koh believed there was the possibility of collusion. However, it was revealed in court filing that Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, had emailed Google's Schmidt in 2007 to stop trying to headhunt an Apple engineer.
Apple's lawyers argued that Cook should not be part of the anti-poaching allegations as he was only the chief operating officer at the time, but Koh ignored this defence, saying that she found it "hard to believe a COO would have no say over salary and compensation for all employees."
In 2010, Apple, Google, Adobe, Pixar and Intuit agreed to settle with the U.S. Justice Department, preventing them from agreeing not to poach each other's employees after the discovery in 2009 that Apple and Google had an unofficial agreement not to headhunt.