Cineflix TV production group faces Ontario class action seeking unpaid wages

TORONTO — The company that makes “Property Brothers” and dozens of other TV programs is being sued for millions in regular wages as well as overtime, vacation and public holiday pay claimed on behalf of hundreds of contract production personnel.

The proposed class action suit claims Cineflix and its affiliates violated the Ontario Employment Standards Act and seeks compensation for all past, present and future personnel in certain job classifications as far back as 2000.

The suit filed in an Ontario court also claims the defendants are liable for any tax liabilities, Canada Pension Plan or employment insurance contributions owed by the affected personnel.

The allegations have not been proven in court and Cineflix did not immediately respond to emails and phone messages requesting comment.

However, a Toronto-based labour lawyer with no connection to the case said Tuesday that the issue is whether the workers have been improperly classified as independent contractors.

“There is no universal test to determine whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor, but courts look to a number of factors to answer the central question of whether the person is in business on his own account or is actually an employee,” said Kimberly Boara Alexander, founding partner of KBA Partners LLP.

The suit claims that Ontario’s provincial labour law applies — and entitles the plaintiffs to a minimum wage and other protections of the Employment Standards Act — because of the specific working conditions required of the personnel.

For example, the suit says members of the class must adhere to a schedule determined by Cineflix, they’re told when and where to work, and to request unpaid days off in advance of taking such days as “vacation” or “sick days.”

Another hurdle for the plaintiffs to overcome is that the Cineflix group is a multinational, with offices in Toronto and Montreal, as well as New York City, London and Dublin.

The suit names more than 100 legal entities as defendants, including Cineflix Inc. and Cineflix Media Inc. and dozens of program-specific entities such as Cineflix (Property Brothers 6) Inc.

The “Property Brothers” show, starring real estate expert Drew Scott and his twin brother Jonathan Scott, a contractor, is produced in association with HGTV — a specialty television channel devoted to homes, decoration and renovations.

Other shows produced by Cineflix include “American Pickers,” “Secrets of the Morgue” and “Bizarre Murders.”

The suit is seeking about $35 million in general damages and $10 million in punitive damages, plus costs and interest.

The proposed class action was launched by Toronto-based law firm Cavalluzzo, which launched a similar class action earlier this year against Blyth Academy, a private school with a number of campuses, on behalf of teachers.

The named plaintiff in the Cineflix suit, Anna Bourque, worked as a story editor from September 2017 to February 2018 at the company’s Toronto production office location.

“Picture editors and story editors work together taking hundreds of hours of footage and sharpening it into 43 minutes or so of entertaining television, but as schedules get squeezed our hours expand and there is never compensation for that, so our pay becomes inversely proportional to the hours worked,” Bourque said in a press statement.

The Cineflix workers covered by the suit aren’t members of a union but they have support from the Canadian Media Guild, and its parent CWA Canada, which aren’t plaintiffs in the case.

“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,” CMG organizer Denise O’Connell said in the press statement.

“Reality and factual TV are the wild west of the entertainment world,” said Lise Lareau, a co-ordinator of the CMG’s Fairness in Factual TV campaign.

“People working in this area of production are cut out of labour laws. They don’t have the rights of other employees, and historically they’ve been left out of union contracts enjoyed by the rest of the entertainment industry.”

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