Steve Jobs' character becomes issue in Silicon Valley no-hiring case

Plaintiffs say materials such as Walter Isaacson's biography are permissible as evidence

Tech workers suing over an alleged no-poaching agreement among Silicon Valley firms are fighting an attempt by defendants to ban evidence that might portray Steve Jobs as a bad guy.

The case centers on alleged secret agreements struck among companies including Apple, Google and Adobe that they would not try to hire each others' workers. The tech workers say that drove down their wages and restricted their mobility.

In the pretrial period, plaintiffs referred to materials such as outside blog posts referencing Jobs and Walter Isaacson's best-selling biography of the former Apple chief. Isaacson's biography reveals both a "good Steve" and a "bad Steve." People, in Jobs' eye, were either "enlightened" or "an asshole," Isaacson writes in the book.

"Manipulation, selfishness, or downright rudeness, we couldn't figure out the motivation behind his madness," reads one statement from the book.

Last week, defendants said that information was negative hearsay and improper character evidence, introduced by plaintiffs to portray Jobs as "a bully." Emails between Jobs and other Silicon Valley executives are permissible as evidence, defendants said in a court filing, "but free-floating character assassination is improper."

But not everything in Isaacson's biography is hearsay, and some statements could be used as evidence in the trial, the tech workers now say. In an effort to have material from the book banned as evidence, companies are mischaracterizing it, plaintiffs said in a court document filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Apple's e-book antitrust case employed statements from the biography as evidence in the trial, said the plaintiffs, who include Silicon Valley engineers and other workers.

At best, defendants' objections are premature, plaintiffs said. At worst, they signal an intention to interfere with the presentation of admissible evidence, "merely because such evidence may also reflect poorly on Mr. Jobs," they said in the filing.

Apple did not immediately respond to comment.

Jobs' personality, the plaintiffs say, is already on full display as evidence in the no-hiring case. Case in point: "If you hire a single one of these people, that means war," Jobs told Google co-founder Sergey Brin at one point, according to a previous filing.

"Defendants will have a full and fair opportunity to object to plaintiffs' presentation of evidence, including evidence concerning Mr. Jobs, at trial," plaintiffs said.

Workers seek US$3 billion in damages in the case, which is expected to go to trial in late May.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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