Class Action lawsuits against Major Junior hockey teams are moving forward in Ontario and Alberta. Like the suit against the OHL, the suit against the WHL alleges that players have been paid less than minimum wage and are due just compensation among other items.
Alberta Justice R.J. Hall granted certification to the lawsuit with some conditions on Thursday. He ruled players with the WHL’s five U.S. teams, four in Washington and one in Oregon are exempt from the class action because they are outside of the court’s jurisdiction.
In a statement, WHL commissioner made the following claims;
“This was a procedural decision only and makes no determination regarding the merits of the claim and, in particular, the status of WHL players. The claim fundamentally misunderstands the nature of amateur sport, including major junior hockey. We believe players are not employees but amateur athletes, and we believe our case is strong.”
While it is technically a “procedural decision”, that procedure is only undertaken after examining the facts contained in the pleadings. Cases do not move forward unless there is a legal question that needs to be answered.
Once again, the WHL aligns itself and clings to the claim of “amateur athletes”. Critical to their defense and just as critical to the prosecution of the lawsuit is that phrase.
The legal definition of professional athlete is a simple one. A professional athlete is one that is paid. There will be no escaping that definition in court.
The commissioner also goes on to say;
“Our position has been endorsed by governments in the majority of jurisdictions where WHL Clubs are located. The provinces of Saskatchewan and British Columbia along with the State of Washington have adopted exemptions to their employment standards acts clarifying that WHL players are amateur athletes. The WHL expects all other provincial and state jurisdictions will also pass similar exemptions in the near future.”
Clearly the commissioner is choosing to ignore that the United States Congress has already legally defined Major Junior players as Professional Athletes. Without those actions of Congress, Major Junior players could not get the proper P-1 Work Visa to play in the United States. That is the same Visa classification used for NHL and minor pro players throughout the United States.
A similar suit is still pending certification in the province of Quebec. It too is expected to move forward.
TJHN will update this story as more information becomes available.