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

Google Maps image.
Four more school exposures in Abbotsford

Two public and two private schools record exposures from Nov. 16 to 19

Google Maps screenshot taken at 6:07 a.m.
TRAFFIC: Westbound dump-truck crash on Highway 1

Crash occurred around 6:45 a.m., west of 232nd Street in Langley

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

Mission Fire Rescue Service holding a training session in 2016. Bob Friesen photo.
Firefighter’s human-rights complaint against District of Mission dismissed

District had just reason for firing man for insubordination, B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found

The annual Toys for Tots event in Abbotsford normally includes a free breakfast for anyone who drops off a toy or cash donation. This year’s event was to be held as a drive-thru, but that has also been cancelled. (File photo)
Toys for Tots drive-thru event cancelled in Abbotsford

Public encouraged to donate cash or bring toys to drop-off locations

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Jessica Peters is a reporter at the Chilliwack Progress.
COLUMN: Bouncing back from a brain injury isn’t easy

‘We didn’t know how bad it was until I tried to return to work’

FILE - This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  Pfizer announced Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, more results in its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study that suggest the shots are 95% effective a month after the first dose. (Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File)
VIDEO: B.C. planning for the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the first weeks of 2021

The question of who will get the vaccine first relies on Canada’s ethical framework

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Canada can make vaccines, just not the ones leading the COVID-19 race

Canada has spent more than $1 billion to pre-order seven different developing COVID-19 vaccines

British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Horgan is set to introduce his NDP government’s new cabinet Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP cabinet built to tackle pandemic, economic recovery, says former premier

Seven former NDP cabinet ministers didn’t seek re-election, creating vacancies in several high-profile portfolios

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The COVID-19 test centre at Peace Arch Hospital is located on the building’s south side. (Tracy Holmes photo)
B.C. woman calls for consistency in COVID-19 post-test messaging

‘Could we just get one thing straight?’ asks Surrey’s Deb Antifaev

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Most Read