October 21, 2019  (Web Review)

When Rules Don’t Apply

(2019) 29 min. DVD: $50. DRA. Filmmakers Collaborative SF (www.filmmakerscollab.org). PPR. Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Filmmaker David Donnenfield’s short documentary focuses on litigation initiated against major Silicon Valley companies by the Department of Justice in 2010 under the Sherman Antitrust Act—lawsuits accusing the firms of conspiring not to recruit each other’s employees. That government action was followed in 2013 by a class-action civil suit by employees alleging that their wages had been artificially suppressed by those same clandestine agreements among their employers. The film is structured around a conversation between reporter Rachael Myrow and Veena Dubal, Associate Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, who introduces interviewees such as Gene Kimmelman, former chief counsel of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division; Ed Colligan, former CEO of Palm, Inc., who blew the whistle on his competitors’ practices; and various academics, politicians, and plaintiffs in the civil suit. Although both suits were settled, the payout to claimants in the class-action litigation—some $435 million—was far less than the $3 billion estimate in lost wages, and many of the interviewees argue that the penalty was not large enough to deter the companies from colluding in the future. While Donnenfield and his colleagues clearly set out the issues—and use archival footage for background context—When Rules Don’t Apply appears to be directed for the most part to employees in high-tech companies who should be aware of both commonplace industry practices that might impede their possibility of advancement and what remedies are available. Extras include related short films. A strong optional purchase. Aud: C, P. (F. Swietek)