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Friday, February 10, 2017
CHL players victims of collusion, lawyers say in Alberta court
CALGARY - Western Hockey League clubs and their parent league colluded to deny their players employee status and fair pay, lawyers in a potential class action suit for the athletes claimed in a Calgary court Wednesday.
In arguing for the right to proceed with a $180-million class action suit, lawyer Steven Barrett said the clubs and the Canadian Hockey League “conspired with each other to ensure the players weren’t properly classified” as employees or paid as employees.
“It’s common to all the players, flowing from the league,” Barrett said.
The legal action targeting the WHL, the Ontario Hockey League and the parent CHL claims the multimillion-dollar businesses failed to properly compensate players even while they pulled in cash from ticket sales, TV rights and corporate sponsorships.
The lawsuit also extends to the QMJHL and all of its clubs, though the Calgary hearings have dealt with unsealing of financial records of the WHL and OHL teams.
Charney Lawyers, the firm fighting the case, says they have more than 400 former and current major junior hockey players registered as interested in forming a class action.
On Tuesday, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Robert Hall ordered the unsealing of the 42 WHL and OHL clubs’ financial records, which the players hope will prove their solvency and ability to pay the minimum wage they seek.
The CHL says a third of the teams in the WHL and OHL lose money. The leagues spend millions on player scholarships while preparing them for the NHL, and a minimum wage would bankrupt some clubs, the CHL says.
Some ex-players say they were paid stipends of $60 to $70 a week, a sum they contend is unfair.
Previous litigation suggests the CHL’s players should be considered employees and not student amateurs as claimed by the league, Barrett said Wednesday.
“When the courts look at those contracts, they have no trouble saying they give rise to employment,” he told the court.
“There’s an effective monopoly over this labour ... that’s the league’s control and the clubs’ control over the players.”
One criteria indicating the players are employees deserving of at least a minimum wage is that the teams provide them with hockey equipment, Barrett argued.
Replied Hall: “If the guys show up with their own skates and helmets, they might be independent contractors.”
Ted Charney, the lead counsel for the possible plaintiffs, said a collective sum for damages for players’ back pay could be calculated from the teams’ schedules.
“All of the players would receive at least a base amount and likely wouldn’t look for more,” he said in arguing for allowing a class-action suit to go forward.