Nova Scotia

Class action lawsuit against QMJHL over player pay gets go ahead

A Quebec court has ruled that a class action lawsuit against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League can proceed. At issue is whether players in the league should be considered employees and paid.

At issue is whether players should be considered employees and paid

Halifax Mooseheads goaltender Alex Gravel makes a save during game six action of the QMJHL final against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Saturday, May 11, 2019. (Vincent Ethier/QMJHL)

A Quebec court has ruled a class action lawsuit over player compensation against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and its 18 teams can proceed.

At issue is whether players in the league should be considered employees and paid, said the June 13 court decision from Quebec Superior Court.

QMJHL players get money for out-of-pocket expenses, equipment, billeting and travel costs while on a roster. Junior players are also eligible for post-secondary school scholarships, with each season spent in the league being worth one year of tuition, books and compulsory fees. 

The lawsuit alleges that since players typically spend at least 35 hours a week on playing duties, they make less than minimum wage, and therefore the QMJHL is breaking provincial labour laws.

The league has 12 teams based in Quebec, three in New Brunswick, two in Nova Scotia and one in P.E.I.

The suit is seeking back pay, overtime and vacation pay, and was launched by two former QMJHL players, Lukas Walter and Thomas Gobeil.

The plaintiffs allege players put in an average of 35-40 hours a week and up to 65 hours per week on "employment related services."

"[Walter's] bi-weekly pay was always the same, no matter how many hours each week he worked for the team," said the judgment, quoting from the allegations of the plaintiffs.

"In some weeks, he did not receive a fee equivalent to minimum wage, nor did he receive any vacation pay, holiday pay or overtime pay as required under the Applicable Employment Standards Legislation, even when he worked on holidays or for in excess of 44 hours a week."

Walter, who also played in the Western Hockey League, has said he thinks the two leagues took advantage of him. He's also the representative plaintiff in a similar lawsuit against the WHL.

Former junior hockey player Lukas Walter is suing both the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. (Nick Purdon/CBC)

The Canadian Hockey League — which is made up of the WHL, QMJHL and Ontario Hockey League — argues that players are "amateur student athletes" and not employees, thus exempting them from minimum wage standards.

Provinces including Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, B.C., Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Alberta have brought in legislation passing exemptions and clarifications on employment standards.

QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau has said that paying players minimum wage could serve as motivation for teenagers to drop out of school.

There's also concern that if the suit is successful, some teams will go bankrupt.

With files from the Canadian Press