Home Featured Ontario court approves $30 million class-action settlement over employment status of Canadian Hockey League players in OHL, WHL and QMJHL

Ontario court approves $30 million class-action settlement over employment status of Canadian Hockey League players in OHL, WHL and QMJHL

by HR Law Canada

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has approved a $30 million settlement resolving class action lawsuits regarding the employment status of players in the Canadian Hockey League’s Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Western Hockey League (WHL), and Québec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).

The decision comes after a complex legal battle spanning nearly a decade, affecting approximately 4,286 amateur hockey players. But it still needs to be approved by courts in Alberta and Quebec.

The lawsuits, initiated by former players, including Samuel Berg from the Ontario Hockey League, contested the non-payment of minimum wage and other standard employment benefits under provincial legislation, arguing that the players were essentially acting as employees for the teams.

Despite the claims, the defendants denied that the class members were employees, describing the relationship as one of guidance and development rather than employment.

In the ruling, the Ontario Superior Court detailed the lengthy litigation process and the eventual settlement negotiations. The approved settlement includes a distribution plan for the players, calculated based on their time spent with the CHL teams, but excludes payment of honoraria to representative plaintiffs, a decision reflecting the court’s stance on rewarding litigation participation.

The court’s decision marks an end to a prolonged legal struggle that has seen the plaintiffs face criticism and ostracism from the hockey community.

“The settlement in the immediate case is without doubt fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of all of the Class Members,” the Court said. The approval of the settlement aims to compensate the affected players while acknowledging the complexities involved in defining their employment status within the realms of amateur sports.

The ruling not only addresses the specific grievances of the plaintiffs but also sheds light on the broader issues surrounding the rights and treatment of amateur athletes. The decision comes after extensive litigation, including appeals and a successful lobbying campaign by the defendants that led to amendments in employment standards legislation across provinces where the CHL operates.

The settlement approval, conditional on the agreement of courts in Alberta and Québec, could bring closure to a contentious chapter in Canadian sports law, offering a measure of justice to the affected players while highlighting the ongoing debate over the status and rights of amateur athletes.

For more information, see Berg v. Canadian Hockey League, 2024 ONSC 1573 (CanLII).

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