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

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

This picture of Taghum resident Marc Savard was taken in February when he first spoke to the Nelson Star and little was known about the virus that had shut him out of his job in Wuhan, China. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: Once an outlier, Nelson man’s COVID-19 experience now typical

Savard was living in Wuhan, China, when the pandemic began

Communities like Nakusp are grappling with the challenge of hooking high-speed internet up at individual homes. File photo
‘Last mile’ debate a Gordian knot in Slocan Valley’s fibre-optic cable plans

How do you bring high-speed internet not just to communities, but individual homes?

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 65 new cases of COVID-19

Province-wide, there are 887 new cases of the virus

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Follow public health recommendations, says Interior Health as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Revelstoke. (Image courtesy CDC)
Revelstoke positive COVID cases grows to 29

Interior Health announced a cluster in the community on Nov. 26

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

2020
Urban wildlife Part VI: The East Kootenay birds of autumn

The work of local photographers printed in the pages of the East Kootenay Advertiser throughout 2020. Part VI.

Most Read