By Lee Cowan

They’re known to attract the best and brightest minds. But this week, a federal judge ordered Google, Apple and five other high-tech companies to court over accusations they violated antitrust laws by conspiring not to poach each other’s employees. CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan looks at this development.

At issue is whether some of the titans of tech — including Apple and Google — conspired not to hire each other’s employees.

A probe by the U.S. Justice Department revealed at least six companies kept “do not call” lists to avoid recruiting. The companies settled that antitrust complaint, but now the employees involved are seeking damages.

Their lead attorney, Joe Saveri, argues the alleged conspiracy kept workers salaries artificially low by stifling competition.

“They are definitely putting the interests of the company ahead of their employees,” he said. “That’s fundamentally wrong.”

According to just-released court filings, an e-mail leaked from Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs to Google executive Eric Schmidt about Google’s attempt to hire away an Apple engineer. Jobs writes: “I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this.”

Google’s response? The recruiter would be fired. “Please extend my apologies as appropriate to Steve Jobs ” the Google e-mail read.

“These were agreements that were hatched and implemented, spread and concealed at the highest levels of these companies,” said Saveri.

Another document, he said, reveals some executives felt uncomfortable with any arrangement.

In an e-mail addressed to Steve Jobs from the then-CEO of Palm read: “Your proposal that we agree that neither company will hire the other’s employees, regardless of the individual’s desires, is not only wrong, it is likely illegal.”

All the companies insist the case should be dismissed and argue that any allegations of a grand conspiracy are implausible at best. But if the suit does gain class action status, lawyers say damages could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.



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