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Settlement reached in Canadian Hockey League class action lawsuit

Member teams across all three leagues paying $250,000 each as part of $30 million settlement, but insurance to cover payout
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The class action lawsuit regarding Canadian Hockey League teams and player pay has been settled – and while the final price tag will be a hefty one, it's not expected to come at a cost to member teams.

Press releases from the plaintiffs in the case and a joint release from both parties revealed that a total of $30 million will payed by the CHL to the class, with Elliott Friedman of Sportsnet reporting the total would work out to approximately $250,000 per team – including the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors.

Teams likely won't have to pay that out, though, as according to an open letter to the CHL community from the WHL, insurance is expected to cover costs.

"Earlier this year we met with the lawyers for the plaintiffs and agreed on a settlement that would see the end of the court case and an award of $30 million which will cover their lawyer’s fees, funder’s fees and other legal costs," the WHL explained. " The remainder will be distributed to players in the class. We did this because cases like these are very expensive and are a distraction to the league and as we had publicly disclosed, we had $30 million in insurance for these lawsuits."

The suit was launched in 2014 by former players from the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, claiming that players were actual employees of their respective clubs, not student athletes as claimed by the CHL.

It wasn’t long after the suit was filed that provinces began to take action, enacting legislation in favour of member teams stating that major junior players were not employees within the meaning of applicable employment standards.

Alberta was the final province to enact such a measure, after which both parties entered into settlement discussions.

“We launched these class actions to fight for the rights of the players and to make a positive change, and we’re proud of what these lawsuits and this settlement have achieved,” said Sam Berg and Lukas Walter, the two initial plaintiffs in these actions, in a press release. “While we can’t do anything about the legislative amendments exempting players from employment standards legislation across the country, this settlement will put millions of dollars into the pockets of the hardworking players and will make a real difference in their lives.”

Berg played for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs in the 2013-14 season, Walter played two seasons with the Tri-City Americans from 2011-13 and one for Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL in 2013-14. They were among a group of five players who were part of the initial class action launched by Charney Lawyers PC.

As Sportsnet reports, “the plaintiffs argued junior hockey contracts were an actual employment contract, entitling them to minimum wage and the benefits described above. The CHL’s defence was that players were student athletes, and that its education package, development, equipment and off-ice programs exceeded what would be earned via minimum wage.”

Players who took the ice in the league from 2010-19 were eligible to join the lawsuit, with Sportsnet report in 2017 having players seeking $180 million in back wages, overtime pay, vacation pay as well as punitive damages.

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