Judge clears way for $180M class-action suit against Ontario Hockey League
Players with U.S.-based teams ruled exempt in claim for millions in back pay
A class action lawsuit against the Ontario Hockey League got the green light Thursday.
The suit contends that OHL players have been paid less than the minimum wage required by law in their regions and asks for $180 million in back wages, overtime and vacation pay.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell granted certification to the lawsuit with some conditions. He ruled players with the OHL's three U.S. teams were exempt from the class action.
Sam Berg, a former Niagara IceDogs forward, and Daniel Pachis, a former member of the Oshawa Generals, were recognized as the representative plaintiffs.
The suit argues the standard agreements players sign pay them as little as $35 per week for between 40 to 65 hours of work.
The OHL's position is the players are "amateur student-athletes" and says it cannot afford to pay the players minimum wage on top of the benefits they receive, which include post-secondary scholarships.
The allegations have yet to be proven in court.
Parallel class actions are pending in both the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League brought forth by Lucas Walter, a former player in both.
The three major junior hockey leagues, featuring a combined 60 teams of players between the ages of 16 and 20, fall under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League.
Breach of employment law
The lawsuit against the OHL will proceed under claims of breach of employment law, but not under breach of contract, Perell said in his ruling.
"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," the OHL said in a statement.
"We are pleased that the court recognized the preferability that claims against our U.S. teams should be resolved by the U.S. courts."
The OHL maintained players are not employees and the benefits the players receive from the league and teams "far exceed the employment standards benefits sought in the claim."
During certification hearings last month in Toronto, the OHL said that some teams would fold and others would have to reduce or eliminate some player benefits if the plaintiffs won their case.