US authorities have sued online retail giant eBay, claiming it was part of a conspiracy with software maker Intuit to refrain from hiring each other’s employees to keep salaries under control.

The civil antitrust lawsuit said eBay violated antitrust laws in an agreement not to recruit or hire Intuit employees, the Justice Department had said yesterday.

The suit claims that the then eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and Intuit founder Scott Cook agreed to the plan, which “deprived these employees of better job opportunities’’.

Officials said it was not necessary to name Intuit in the complaint because the company had previously been named in a September 2010 lawsuit and settlement, which bars Intuit from entering into these types of agreements.

In the earlier case, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division filed suit against six big tech firms — Adobe Systems, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar — over a series of bilateral agreements not to solicit each other’s employees.

All six companies entered into a settlement that prohibited them from these practices. The eBay case grew out of the same investigation.

Officials said the eBay-Intuit agreement “was enforced at the highest levels of each company’’, and barred either firm from soliciting each other’s employees, and for over a year barred eBay from hiring any Intuit employees at all.

The suit alleges that Whitman, then eBay’s CEO, and Cook, Intuit’s founder and executive committee chair, were “intimately involved in forming, monitoring and enforcing the anticompetitive agreement,” a Justice Department statement said.

A class-action lawsuit on behalf of the affected employees is proceeding in California on the matter against Apple, Google, Pixar and others.

(This article was published on November 17, 2012)
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