Ka-Ching! Bank Workers Cash Out on Class Action
Scotiabank employees won an important victory in a resettlement of a class-action suit over unpaid overtime in March.The resettlement directly affects 1,600 workers and could potentially affect thousands more female bank workers across Canada. It’s a story making quiet headlines on the business pages of Canada’s newspapers, and its impact on the female-dominated banking industry looms large.
The precedent-setting case was instigated in 2007 by Cindy Fulawka, a personal banking representative at a Scotiabank branch in Regina.The statement of claim sought $250 million in general damages for her and hundreds of other Scotiabank workers across Canada, plus a further $100 million in punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.
Fulawka had almost 20 years of banking experience at branches in Saskatchewan and Ontario when she initiated the action. Under the heading “Cindy’s Story” posted on the class action suit’s website (www.bnsun paidovertime.ca), Fulawka wrote, “I was not upset over working hard.Women are used to working hard.What upset me was the bank refusing to pay me overtime.”
Fulawka said she was compelled to work overtime to meet the performance requirements of her employer.“If I had not met my assigned goals, I would have received negative performance appraisals. I sought overtime pay from the bank, but it was a futile quest.”
Hundreds of other Scotiabank employees, who had claimed they were denied overtime pay while being assigned more work than could be completed within their standard hours, joined the class action. The courts sided with the claimants, and in 2014 Scotiabank paid approximately $18.7 million to some 600 employees.
But the legal action wasn’t over.In March 2016, a second settlement, in the form of a decision by Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba, ordered Scotiabank to pay an additional $20.6 million to a further 1,600 class members whose original claims had been partially or fully rejected by their employer.
David O’Connor of Toronto law firm Roy O’Connor LLP says Scotiabank has been making adjustments to its overtime policy since the firm began legal action on behalf of the workers.“I suspect they will continue in this vein,” O’Connor said.“The bigger question is, how will this influence other employers? I think the settlement and resettlement will lead to other employers paying closer attention to the hours of work of their employees.”
According to O’Connor, many employees have misconceptions about working unpaid overtime.It is commonly believed, for example, that if you are on salary you are not entitled to overtime pay, and that if you want to get ahead you shouldn’t complain about unpaid overtime.Employees who are not in management positions however, are legally entitled to overtime.Besides, O’Connor said, “It’s the right thing to do.”
Dara Fresco worked at a CIBC branch in Ontario.She took the issue of unpaid overtime to Roy O’Connor LLP just before Cindy Fulawka did.The result was an even larger class action suit involving more employee positions than the Scotiabank claim, such as tellers.Fresco’s class-action suit is still before the courts.(See Herizons, winter 2007.) Fresco, along with more than 31,000 employees working at 1,000 CIBC branches, is claiming $600 million in damages for unpaid overtime.
O’Connor says the CIBC class action in particular is the first national class action of its kind in Canada.CIBC employees (and employees in other companies) can still contact his firm if they have experiences to share about unpaid overtime.
While women are no longer denied managerial positions in banks, as they were decades ago, most continue to fill bottom rung positions, where unpaid overtime, a lack of job security and substandard wages and benefits remain common.Meanwhile, Canada’s five biggest banks are among the country’s most profitable companies.
Unpaid overtime was the issue that sparked a now-historic organizing drive by the independent feminist union Service, Office and Retail Workers Union of Canada (SORWUC) in the 1970s.Employers in some of the big five banks reacted by firing organizers and raising wages in branches where employees hadn’t signed union cards.Their story has recently been depicted in a book by the Graphic History Collective, called Drawn to Change and released in April.