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EA Agrees to Settle Overtime Lawsuit

The video game giant will pay $14.9 million for claims brought by programmers.

April 26, 2006|Dawn C. Chmielewski | Times Staff Writer

Video game giant Electronic Arts Inc. said Tuesday that it would pay $14.9 million to settle an overtime lawsuit that highlighted the long hours and often stressful working conditions of programmers across the rapidly growing industry.

Redwood City, Calif.-based EA, the world's largest independent games publisher, will make the money available to settle the unpaid overtime claims of an estimated 600 computer programmers who worked for EA between Feb. 14, 2001, and Feb. 14, 2006.

EA also agreed to pay the employer's share of the payroll taxes and reclassify two entry-level programming jobs as hourly wage positions. The agreement was reached Monday, and filed in San Mateo County Superior Court on Tuesday. The company agreed last October to pay $15.6 million to settle overtime claims by its graphic artists.

"We're happy to have this behind us," said EA spokeswoman Trudy Muller.

A separate case filed by animators and graphic artists against Sony Computer Entertainment of America is pending.

The $25-billion global video game industry has long romanticized caffeine-fueled programmers who forgo sleep for days on end to meet production schedules. But as the industry matures along with its workforce, the long hours have taken their toll.

Labor lawyer Harley Shaiken said the lawsuits demonstrate that video game industry employees want to balance their professional and personal lives.

"People can be stoked on caffeine and work all night, but over time video games are like any other industry. Employees want some limits," said Shaiken, a UC Berkeley law professor. "What can be dedication and creative energy in one context can be exploitation in another. There's sometimes a thin line between the two. You want to keep the innovation, but you don't want to do it because it's just poor decisions leading to a lot of overtime."

Long hours had become the norm for the industry -- encouraged by a tradition of bravado and male-dominated culture. One survey conducted by the International Game Developers' Assn. found that more than half of game developers said so-called crunch times leading up to a deadline were normal and that 47% weren't compensated for the extra hours.

The frustrations of programmers and their families were exposed in 2004, when the partner of an EA employee posted a 2,000-word lament on the Internet. She received more than 1,000 sympathetic responses -- from colleagues of her fiance at Electronic Arts and others across the industry.

A pair of lawsuits were filed against Electronic Arts -- one by artists in July 2004 and another by programmer Leander Hasty in February 2005.

EA and its programmers entered private mediation Jan. 26, which produced Monday's settlement. The 34-page agreement lays out how the fund is to be allocated and sets limits on expenses. It sets aside a separate $30,000 award for Hasty, who filed the original suit, and $15,000 for John McDonald, who joined the suit later.

If money is left unclaimed, half of the remaining amount would be paid to the Ronald McDonald House and the other half to establish scholarships at five universities for women and minority students interested in studying interactive entertainment.

The attorneys representing the programmers declined to comment, citing terms of the settlement.

EA's Muller said the settlement would not significantly affect the company's fourth-quarter financial results to be reported May 3. The company had set aside $21 million in reserve to cover legal settlements, she said.

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