Players’ sticks are shown during a World Championships Group A hockey game between Russia and Denmark, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A $30-million settlement of three class actions over the failure to pay junior hockey players the minimum wage has been thrown into jeopardy after three judges refused to sign off on the agreement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev

Players’ sticks are shown during a World Championships Group A hockey game between Russia and Denmark, in Moscow, Russia, on Thursday, May 12, 2016. A $30-million settlement of three class actions over the failure to pay junior hockey players the minimum wage has been thrown into jeopardy after three judges refused to sign off on the agreement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ivan Sekretarev

Junior hockey employment lawsuit on thin ice; judges refuse to OK $30M deal

In their decisions, the judges in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta objected to wording in the settlement

A $30-million settlement of three class actions over the alleged failure to pay junior hockey players the minimum wage has been thrown into jeopardy after three judges refused to sign off on the agreement.

In their decisions, the judges in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta objected to wording in the settlement they said was too broad and could prevent the players from pressing other legitimate claims.

More precisely, Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell said, class members would get an average of about $8,400 but could end up barred from suing leagues for damages related to concussions, sexual assaults or physical harassment, or alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

“Class members may be foreclosed from suing the defendants in other class actions for compensation for significant injuries,” Perell said. “A release of the claims in those other actions makes the settlement in the immediate case an improvident settlement and one that is not fair and reasonable, nor in the best interests of the class members.”

The plaintiffs in the three lawsuits alleged the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and their affiliated clubs — all operate under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League — failed to treat them as employees.

According to the plaintiffs, some players were paid as little as $35 per week for working between 35 and 65 hours weekly. The leagues, they asserted, should have paid them minimum wage, overtime pay, and provided other employment benefits.

The first lawsuit, launched in Ontario in 2014, sought about $175 million in outstanding compensation.

In response, the leagues argued, among other things, that the players were amateur athletes and not employees. Nevertheless, in March, the leagues agreed after mediation to pay $30 million to settle the lawsuits — with about $9 million going to the players’ lawyers.

The settlement was set for court approval when two representative plaintiffs — Kobe Mohr and Anthony Poulin — objected to the wording of the final release, which would insulate the leagues from any related lawsuits in the future.

As a result of the objection, the courts learned of other actions against the Canadian Hockey League, including one filed in British Columbia over player concussions. Another filed in Ontario alleges players younger than 18 suffered sexual abuse, while a third in Federal Court alleges various leagues engaged in anti-competitive practices.

“To be blunt about it, in the immediate case, in my opinion, once the 11th-hour objection arrived, class counsel should have withdrawn their motion for settlement approval until the matter of the prejudicial scope of the release was resolved,” Perell said. “What is required is a renegotiation of the release provisions of the settlement agreement.”

In a similar ruling, Justice Robert Hall of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench leaned on Perell’s analysis for refusing to go along with the settlement.

“The class members cannot be unwittingly releasing the defendants from other claims beyond the one being settled,” Hall wrote. Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Corriveau expressed similar sentiments.

The judges did say the parties could reapply for settlement approval after fixing the issue with the release given that the other provisions of the deal were reasonable.

If an agreement isn’t reached on the release, the settlement could be terminated within weeks and lead to a resumption of the litigation.

Neither the Canadian Hockey League nor the plaintiffs’ counsel had any comment.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where one employee is still currently isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was first declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
54 positive COVID-19 cases associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

There’s been a two-person increase in positive cases since Tuesday (Dec. 1)

K-J Millar/The Northern View
8 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the Northern Health Authority

Since Nov. 27, there have been 191 new cases reported in NHA

Image courtesy CDC
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Kitamaat Village

Haisla Nation Council said there are two confirmed cases they are aware of at this time

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty ventilators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of paymens for household incomes up to $175,000

KIJHL games have been postponed through Dec. 31. (File photo)
KIJHL postpones all games through end of 2020

Due to provincial health orders, games up to Dec. 31 have been pushed back

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Former Kelowna social worker arrested for allegedly stealing from foster kids

Robert Riley Saunders was arrested in Alberta and will be brought back to B.C. to face charges

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Most Read