Quebec judge authorizes lawsuit against federal government over Phoenix pay system

A Quebec judge has authorized a class-action lawsuit against the federal government related to the troubled Phoenix pay system.

Between 40,000 and 70,000 people could be eligible to join the lawsuit

Public servants affected by Phoenix pay system problems rally outside the prime minister's office on Oct. 31, 2016. A Quebec judge has now authorized a class-action lawsuit against the federal government over the troubled pay system. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

A Quebec judge has authorized a class-action lawsuit against the federal government related to the troubled Phoenix pay system.

The suit alleges some employees were paid too much before being forced to reimburse the difference, while some others were not paid at all or did not receive the proper remuneration.

Lawyers are seeking a base amount of $500 for all those admissible to join the lawsuit and an additional $1,000 for people who had mistakes in their pay, regardless of whether they received too much money or not enough.

The amount would be higher for anyone who did not receive at least half of their pay during at least two consecutive pay periods.

"When we speak to people, we realize that even just being employed in the civil service during the period caused them prejudice," Julien Fortier, a lawyer with the Sarailis Avocats law firm, said in an interview.

Lawsuit not open to all affected employees

The lead plaintiff is Ezmie Bouchard, who worked at Passport Canada between January and August 2016.

She alleges several mistakes were made on her pay and that when she left she was owed $4,800. The court document states Bouchard ended up receiving $1,000 too much and had to pay it back.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean-Francois Emond's ruling does not apply to all employees affected by the Phoenix fiasco.

He excluded employees who, under federal labour laws, have recourse to a grievance.

That includes unionized and non-unionized employees.

Members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada protest in front of the offices of the Department of Finance on Elgin Street in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Emond said the people eligible to join the lawsuit are primarily students, retirees and casual workers.

Sarailis said it is looking at the possibility of filing an appeal of the limits imposed by the judge.

"Our team is concerned about the excluded members' access to justice, especially for non-unionized employees such as managers," the law firm said in a statement.

"Without access to a form of collective representation or to independent arbitration of their claims, these persons will form a sizable but largely silent subgroup."

$1B price tag

Fortier said he believes between 40,000 and 70,000 people across Canada could meet the criteria set out by the judge.

Asked on Wednesday about the lawsuit, the parliamentary secretary to Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough did not want to comment on a matter that is before the courts.

"(But) I don't think we've ever hesitated in saying this should have been settled a long time ago and that it shouldn't have happened," said Steven MacKinnon.

"All available human, financial and technological resources are being used to solve the problem."

It is so far estimated that the total cost of the debacle, from the creation of Phoenix to dealing with its problems, will reach or exceed $1 billion by the end of this year. When the system was first adopted, the previous Conservative government had predicted it would save taxpayers $70 million annually.