Judge certifies minimum wage lawsuit against Ontario Hockey League

Sportsnet's Gare Joyce talks about the pending CHL lawsuit and the ramifications it will have on the Junior Hockey world if it goes in favour of the players.

An ongoing lawsuit against the OHL involving former players who are suing the league for minimum wage saw a major development Thursday afternoon.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell ruled in favour of certifying the minimum wage case as a class-action lawsuit. As a result, any player who played in the league between 2012 and the current year automatically becomes a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the OHL, with the exception of those who played for an American-based team. Those players are eligible to recover funds only from time spent with a Canadian team.

“It is not a surprise that parts of this suit were certified and allowed to move forward as a class action given the current state of the law in Canada on this procedural issue. We are pleased that the court recognized the preferability that claims against our US teams should be resolved by the US courts,” the OHL said in a written statement.

“With the certification proceedings behind us in Ontario, this now gives us the opportunity to focus on the merits of the case. The claim fundamentally misunderstands the nature of amateur sport, including major junior hockey, in Canada. We believe the players are not employees but amateur athletes and that the current player experience and benefits offered by our league and teams, which were developed with the input of players and hockey families, far exceed the employment standards benefits sought in the claim.”

The lawsuit seeks $180 million in back wages, overtime and vacation pay.

Sam Berg, who played eight games with the Niagara IceDogs in 2013, and Daniel Pachis, who played 135 OHL games with Saginaw and Oshawa from 2007 to 2010 were named as representative plaintiffs. The latter can only claim losses for time spent with the Generals.

The OHL has claimed that if the case became certified as a class action, the league would have to reduce benefits provided to current and future players and possibly fold some teams as they would have a $30 million liability.

“If the action is certified and if the sky does indeed fall, then the sky falling is not a reason to decertify the class action, because it would remain to be determined whether the Defendants were wrongdoers and were liable to pay minimum wages and overtime pay to the Class Members. It is not exculpatory of wrongdoing for a defendant to argue or even prove that it cannot afford to comply with the law,” Perell wrote in his ruling.

Similar lawsuits have also been filed against the WHL and QMJHL, but this ruling has no bearing on those cases.

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