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$7M class action lawsuit filed against S-Trip student travel firm

The lawsuit filed this week alleges the Canadian student travel company is violating labour laws by misclassifying employees as volunteers who aren't paid minimum wage. It follows a CBC Toronto investigative story published last year.

Lawsuit alleging S-Trip labour law violations follows a CBC Toronto investigation published in 2017

Nearly a year after D'Andra Montaque worked more than 14-hour days supervising students on a grad trip to Cuba, the 23-year-old is now the lead plaintiff for a $7-million class action lawsuit filed this week against Canadian student travel firm S-Trip. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

Nearly a year after D'Andra Montaque worked more than 14-hour days supervising students on a grad trip to Cuba, the 23-year-old is suing the Toronto-based travel company, because it treated her as a volunteer instead of paying her as an employee.

Montaque is now the lead plaintiff in a $7-million class action lawsuit filed this week against Canadian student travel firm S-Trip. The suit follows a CBC Toronto investigative story about the company's labour practices that was published last year.

"It could have been an amazing experience, and an amazing job opportunity, but at the end of it I felt used," she told CBC Toronto.

The lawsuit from Ottawa and Toronto-based law firm Goldblatt Partners LLP alleges S-Trip "trip leaders" weren't properly classified as employees and didn't get paid at least minimum wage for the hours they worked.

The law firm believes those practices violate Ontario labour laws.

"Quite simply, these aren't volunteers," said Josh Mandryk, the lawyer working on the case. "This is a for-profit company; it's in business to make money and these are its front-line workers."

D'Andra Montaque, middle, during her stint as an S-Trip 'trip leader' in Cuba. (Supplied by D'Andra Montaque)

Lawsuit focusing on S-Trip 'trip leaders' 

The firm's class action follows a 2017 CBC Toronto investigation, which found that while college-age students and recent graduates hired by S-Trip are explicitly told to expect 14-hour workdays, they don't receive a paycheque for doing so.

Jobs posted online last year from Canadian parent company I Love Travel referred to "trip leaders" as part-time positions acting as "the main point of contact" for trip participants.

But in internal documents, trip leaders were instead referred to as "volunteers" and given an honorarium ranging from $150 to $300.

At the time, S-Trip confirmed the volunteer classification, but said the company abides by all provincial laws and covers volunteers' travel expenses, including airfare, excursions and room and board.

While the student travel company has been operating for more than a decade, the class action is focusing on "trip leaders" like Montaque who started their roles on trips leaving Ontario over the last two years.

"It was a lot of work," she recalled. "It was intense, very hard and exhausting."

While her travel expenses were covered by the company, Montaque said her only payment for more than a week of work was the $150 honorarium — and more than half of that was used to pay for her S-Trip uniform.

In the end, that left $70 in her pocket.

"I was really let down by them," she said. "I feel like they're just really taking advantage of really great people." 

'Quite simply, these aren't volunteers,' said Josh Mandryk of Goldblatt Partners LLP. 'This is a for profit company; it's in business to make money and these are its front-line workers." (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

'This claim is without merit'

In a statement, Eugene Winer, president and COO of I Love Travel, told CBC Toronto, "this claim is without merit and we will defend ourselves.

"We work closely with labour lawyers to ensure we abide by all provincial laws, statutes or guidelines, regardless of role," he said.

Alleged labour violations are not the only controversy surrounding S-Trip. The popular student trips previously came under fire from attendees and their parents after a CBC Marketplace investigation into the trips' party culture.

Attendees and former trip leaders later shared stories with CBC Toronto about how the overseas trips can get "a little bit out of control," with young trip leaders allegedly encountering situations where students in their care were binge drinking, getting injured, or having suicidal thoughts.

Montaque said during her Cuba trip, part of her role involved trying to "stop underage kids from drinking" and making sure the student attendees didn't get lost on excursions. It was "nerve wracking," she recalled.

Both Montaque and her lawyer hope the class action changes the situation for S-Trip workers.

"We want compensation for the folks who've done this work, and we want to change their practices going forward," said Mandryk.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

Reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca