Several technology giants, including Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe, are embroiled in a class-action lawsuit, where their employees claim the tech companies made an agreement not to poach talent from each other.
Employees at those companies say that resulted in $9 billion in lost wages.
Jim Balassone, with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, says figuring out exactly how much money in wages was lost is a lawyers' game. But, he says, the emails discovered during the lawsuit help connect the dots.
"In an email exchange between Google and Apple, Google sought the approval of Apple to hire four French software engineers who had already left Apple," Balassone said.
Steve Jobs’ response? "We'd strongly prefer that you not hire these guys," he said in an email.
Google honored his wishes.
"So there’s the issue of lost wages but harder to measure is the lost opportunity," says Balasone.
Steve Donnelly, the head of recruiting for BigCommerce, has been reading the emails too. Referring to one in which Google asked if it could hire a current Apple employee, the answer was also "no." Donnelly believes that leaves the employee exposed.
"That limits the person who ends up staying with the company," he says, adding that an employer may decide not to promote that person or worse, start looking for somebody who’s more dedicated to the company to replace them.
"I’ve seen candidates in this market where a year and a half ago were at $80,000 on their base salary and a year and a half later, they’ve changed two or three companies and their now at $140,000".
Brosnan says if engineers were blocked from taking jobs, then they were losing real money.
Google and Apple were contacted for comment, but did not respond to an email request.