Labour lawsuits: Time is money

Lawsuits for miserly bosses.

If Cindy Fulawka gets her way, Scotiabank employees could be laughing all the way to work. Fulawka’s $350-million unpaid overtime lawsuit against the Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX: BNS) moved forward in June, when she filed documents to certify the claim as a national class action. The suit, pending certification by Ontario Superior Court, would cover thousands of current and former non-management, non-unionized personal or small-business bankers across Canada.

Scotia staffers allege they’ve been forced to put in extra hours to complete job requirements. Fulawka’s law firms, Roy Elliott O’Connor and Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, launched a similar overtime lawsuit in June 2007 against CIBC (TSX: CM) to the tune of $600 million. In April, they went after Canadian National Railway (TSX: CNR) for $300 million on behalf of first-line supervisors, whom the lawsuit alleges are misclassified as management to dodge paying them overtime.

Though none of the three claims have yet been certified as class action, the recent spate of lawsuits is catching attention. “The fact that there are class actions about overtime has certainly been noticed by those in the same industry, and even outside that,” says Jonathan Dye, an employment lawyer with Heenan Blaikie. “A lot of employers may very well be taking a look at their own practices to see they are on side.”

Indeed. Following a lawsuit from former employees last September, KPMG LLP announced in February a redress plan, estimated at less than $10 million, for overtime dating back to 2000. In April, PricewaterhouseCoopers declared retroactive payments for categories of employees previously considered ineligible for overtime.

Class action in Canada is a relatively new phenomenon in any sphere, let alone employment, says Dye. “But if we’re talking about big dollars, if one is successful, then other attempts will likely follow.” Now that’s something to bank on.