Emails between Apple, Adobe, Intel and others are making them look bad as the US Justice Department mounts a case against them for setting up "anti-poaching" deals in which they allegedly agreed not to hire each other's people away.
The emails are part of the Justice Department's evidence in its class action suit that accuses the tech firms of agreeing not to steal each other's staff so that they could artificially lower employees' wages by killing competition.
The defendants, who also include Google, Pixar and Lucasfilm, are trying to get the case dismissed on the grounds that there was no conspiracy between them all, the agreements were all just separate deals that made no reference to each other.
A redacted document filed with the court before the scheduled case management conference on January 26 details evidence of emails and phone calls between the defendants organising the anti-poaching and anti-bidding-war deals.
The DOJ claims that in May of 2005, Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen emailed Steve Jobs forwarding an internal email from Adobe's senior VP of human resources about the recruitment of Apple employees.
"Bruce and Steve Jobs have an agreement that we are not to solicit ANY Apple employees and vice versa … Please ensure all your worldwide recruiters know that we are not to solicit any Apple employee. I know that Jerry is soliciting one now, so he'll need to back off," the department quoted Theresa Townley as saying in the email.
In April 2007, according to DOJ, Lori McAdams from Pixar wrote an email detailing a "gentleman's agreement" with Apple and referencing an existing deal with Lucasfilm.
"I just got off the phone with Danielle Lambert, and we agreed that effective now, we'll follow a gentleman's agreement with Apple that is similar to our Lucasfilm agreement," she is quoted as saying in the email.
In August the same year, Ed Colligan, then CEO of Palm, wrote to Jobs to refuse to do an anti-poaching deal, the DOJ alleges.
"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," the department quoted him as saying.
The DOJ goes on to claim that the agreements even covered employees that weren't solicited, but just applied for jobs at the rival company.
"The documents show that the explicit purpose of the agreement was to eliminate competition for talent, suppress employee compensation, and lower wages," the department said.
It also said that the defendants all referred to the alleged conspiracy by the same name, although the term they were using is redacted.
The department pointed out that senior execs from the firms all frequently sat on each other's boards as well, which would make it more likely that they all knew about the agreements.
The defendants in the case said that the DOJ's arguments were "both objectionable and meritless" and the department had failed to show that there was any overarching conspiracy.
"While plaintiffs distort and misconstrue the documents, the most that can be said of those documents is that they refer to bilateral business arrangements, conceived at different times in the individualised context of each company's unique collaborations and corporate relationships," they said in their response.
For those reasons, they are continuing to call on the court to dismiss the case.
If the court decides not to dismiss, Lucasfilm also said it wanted to be considered as separate from the rest, since it only had one agreement and that was with Pixar, which it often works closely with.
The entertainment company also argued that it wasn't a tech firm so it wasn't competing with the likes of Google and Apple. ®