$35M class-action lawsuit filed against Cineflix Media

Law firm Cavalluzzo has taken on the suit, alleging the producer has violated the terms of the Employment Standards Act.

Following a groundswell of activism in the factual space regarding worker rights, a $35-million class-action lawsuit has been filed against producer Cineflix Media.

The suit has been filed by Toronto law firm Cavalluzzo, and alleges improper hiring and loss of pay for workers on unscripted projects. According to Canadian Media Guild (CMG) and parent union CWA Canada, which released a statement of support, the suit represents “hundreds of factual and reality TV workers.”

The lawsuit is based on a statement of claim made by story editor Anna Bourque, and was filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Friday, Oct. 5. It alleges, broadly, that Cineflix violated the rights of workers and the terms of the Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA) by classifying non-managerial employees as independent contractors.

The filing comes in the wake of a five-year campaign by CMG and CWA Canada to organize workers in the factual and unscripted space in Canada, echoing a similar movement in the U.S. As recently as late last month, documents outlining pay and associated working conditions have been circling around the industry.

Montreal-based Cineflix Media is one of the largest companies of its kind in Canada, and produces a slew of factual and unscripted properties, including Property Brothers and Mayday.

As with labour disputes impacting the unscripted production industry in the U.S., the key issue is the classification of workers and the characterization of the employment relationship. Arguing that the duties performed by “class members” (which the suit defines as “All non-managerial persons who, since 2000, worked or continue to work for the Cineflix Defendants in Ontario in pre-production, and/or production, and/or post-production job classifications”) and the “supervision and control imposed” on them by the production company creates an employment relationship with it, the lawsuit specifically alleges that Cineflix was negligent in classifying “class members” as independent contractors, and thereby violated the terms of the Employment Standards Act (ESA), resulting in financial loss for those class members.

The lawsuit claims that, among other things, the company failed to: ensure that class members were “properly classified as employees”; advise class members of their entitlement to compensation equal to or above the minimum wage as set out in the ESA of 2000; advise class members of their entitlement to overtime pay if they had worked more than 44 hours in a week; ensure class members’ hours of work were monitored or accurately recorded; and advise class members of their entitlement to public holiday pay and premium pay in accordance with the ESA.

As a result, reads the claim, Cineflix has been “unjustly enriched” due to “receiving the benefit of the unpaid hours worked by the class members.”

Bourque, the claimant on whom the suit is based, worked on Property Brothers season six from September 2017 to February 2018 as a story editor. The claim is based on her work during that time. The lawsuit, however, alleges violations of the ESA date back to 2000.

“Cineflix has demonstrated a solid history of ethical standards and respect for the creative community for over 20 years,” said a Cineflix statement issued to Playback Daily on Tuesday evening. “Cineflix will be vigorously contesting this claim.”

The CMG – which has for the past five years been running the Fairness in Factual TV campaign alongside CWA Canada – called the lawsuit a “big step forward” for factual and reality TV workers.

“Since these workers aren’t covered by union contracts, production companies often use them as a way to create less expensive but still lucrative programming,” said CMG organizer Denise O’Connell.

Image: Shutterstock

Updated: 5:40 p.m., Oct. 9, 2018