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Phoenix Falling

Civil servant in legal mess after suing federal government over Phoenix pay problem

A contract worker in Ottawa is at the centre of a messy legal battle after becoming the first person to sue the federal government over the Phoenix payroll fiasco affecting thousands of public servants.

Darrel Delisle took Global Affairs to court over lack of paycheques

(CBC)

A contract worker in Ottawa is at the centre of a messy legal battle after becoming the first person to sue the federal government over the Phoenix payroll fiasco affecting thousands of public servants.

Darrel Delisle, a former casual worker with Global Affairs Canada, filed a lawsuit for $24,000 after he struggled to get paid for three months during the roll out of the government's new Phoenix pay system.

In a statement of defence, Global Affairs admitted it did owe Delisle money but after the lawsuit was filed, a Phoenix glitch resulted in the government accidentally overpaying him. Now Delisle owes his former employer more than $14,000.

Since February, more than 80,000 workers have struggled to be properly paid — some being paid too little, some being paid too much and some not being paid at all.

635 calls, no pay

According to court documents Delisle made many attempts to get paid, including 635 calls to the pay centre, sending emails, setting up meetings with superiors and filing a labour complaint, which was ultimately rejected.

Delisle left his government contract early on June 24 to take another job, according to his statement of claim.

On July 14, he filed his lawsuit in Ontario's small claims court, arguing he wasn't paid properly and suffered losses during the roll out of Phoenix. 

Delisle is seeking $24,000 "for the payment of wages, personal hardship experience and extreme inconvenience caused by the unacceptable administrative process imposed by the employer," according to his statement of claim. 

But on July 27, less than two weeks after he filed the lawsuit, the government drastically overpaid him, according to Global Affairs' own statement of defence. 

The government claims Delisle was only owed $12,599 but that he was paid a lump sum of $26,707 — double the amount he was owed. Now Global Affairs claims Deslie owes the government $14,692.

"The overpayment resulted from an unexpected automated Phoenix-generated retroactive payment for some periods that were also processed by the compensation unit, resulting in some duplicate payments," according to the statement of defence.

'The wrong signal'

A lawyer closely watching the Phoenix saga unfold said the government's handling of this lawsuit could discourage the most vulnerable workers affected from taking legal action.

"This sends the signal that people aren't going to be able to take advantage of their rights," said Sean McGee, a lawyer with Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP.  "From my point of view, it's just the wrong signal."

McGee calls the situation "a classic catch-22." On the upside, casual and part-time workers, as well as consultants, can file a civil lawsuit, unlike full-time workers who can only file a grievance. 

On the downside, McGee said workers that are not full time are the most hesitant to sue, and the government's response to the lawsuit could make them even more nervous.

"The difficulty is, these are the very people that are going to be saying to themselves, 'If I go to court am I ever going to be able to work in the public service again? Is anyone going to want to hire me? Is someone going to say, 'Is this a troublemaker?'' So they may be the very people to say, 'I'm not going to take that risk.''"

Unpaid workers hesitant to sue, says lawyer 0:34

That fear is echoed in Delisle's lawsuit.

"My request for damages also includes the real possibility that this will have a negative effect on future employment opportunities with the Government of Canada," the statement of claim says.

CBC News reached Delisle by phone, but he said he's not willing to comment at this time.

Out of 80,000 workers affected by the Phoenix problems, he's the only one to go up against the federal government in court.

Global Affairs Canada admits in its statement of defence that Delisle was owed $12,599 in missed pay at the time he filed his statement of claim in July — but argues the damages sought "are excessive" because he was paid three emergency advances totaling $5,336 during the period he wasn't receiving a proper pay cheque.

The government declined to comment on the case, telling CBC News, "the government's statement of defence outlines our position in this matter."

Delisle now has an opportunity to respond to the government's statement of defence. 

Do you have a story to tell? Email ashley.burke@cbc.ca

About the Author

Ashley Burke

Ashley Burke is a video journalist for CBC News Ottawa. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca