In 2014, class action lawsuits were commenced claiming that CHL players are employees and subject to employment standards acts and not amateur student athletes. You may know these as the “minimum wage lawsuits”.
The question the lawsuits asked was whether CHL players are amateur student athletes or employees.
We believe that CHL players are amateur student athletes and that our player experience, Players First, provides for the most extensive benefit package of any junior hockey organization in the world and which comes at no cost to our players and their families. It includes the best academic scholarship in sport, on-ice training and development, equipment, off-ice programs focused on mental health and wellness. When totaled, the Players First experience far exceeds what CHL players would earn on minimum wage.
In lawsuits of this nature it is required that the parties meet for mediation, where they discuss a resolution that would be reached quickly and without having to go through extensive court time and 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 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.
This settlement does not mean that we agree with the plaintiffs. It means that we wanted to end the lawsuits so we could continue to focus on being the best development league in hockey.
All Canadian provincial governments reviewed the issue of player status and clarified in their legislation that our players are amateur student athletes and not employees covered by minimum wage or employment laws. While this ended the issue going forward, the lawsuits continued to be a distraction and would continue to damage the financial position of our teams by costing millions of dollars in legal fees for 5 to 10 more years. Millions of dollars that would pay lawyers and add nothing to our player experience or the strength of our teams.
These lawsuits were settled just prior to the shutdown due to COVID-19. We still have no idea of the final impact this pandemic will have on our teams, players and our fans. We do know that we do not want to spend time on legal wrangling – we need to focus on getting back on the ice in a way that protects our players and fans.