The U.S. Justice Department on Friday accused eBay and former CEO Meg Whitman of conspiring with Intuit executives to not poach each others' employees, adding to the list of Silicon Valley companies linked to similar antitrust allegations.
In a lawsuit filed in San Jose federal court, the federal government alleges that eBay and Intuit entered into an "illegal agreement" between 2006 and 2009 that prevented the rivals from raiding their respective workforces and damaging opportunities for employees at the two companies. Federal regulators say the deal specifically barred eBay from recruiting Intuit workers to the point that eBay executives were instructed to throw out the résumés of Intuit candidates.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris also sued eBay under state law Friday, based on the same allegations.
eBay denied wrongdoing and defended its hiring practices, calling the state and federal lawsuits "wrong."
"The DOJ and state attorney general are taking an overly aggressive interpretation in their enforcement of antitrust law in this area," eBay spokeswoman Lara Wyss said. "eBay will vigorously defend itself."
The lawsuit specifically alleges that Whitman and Intuit founder Scott Cook "were intimately involved" in enforcing the "anticompetitive agreement."
"eBay's agreement with Intuit hurt employees by lowering the salaries and benefits they might have received and deprived them of better job opportunities at the other company," Joseph Wayland, the Justice Department's acting antitrust chief, said in a statement.
Intuit was not named in Friday's lawsuit because the company already reached a settlement regarding the same allegations in a previous Justice Department antitrust case. Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel and Pixar also joined in that 2010 settlement.
The tech companies still face separate civil antitrust lawsuits brought on behalf of employees. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh earlier this year allowed the case to proceed, saying there is evidence the agreements "resulted from collusion, not from coincidence."
eBay is not a defendant in that case, but Joseph Saveri, a lawyer for the employees, said he is investigating the government's new claims.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236; follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.