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B.C. casino workers laid off during pandemic launch class-action lawsuit

Notice of civil claim filed in Supreme Court of B.C. in Nanaimo against Great Canadian Gaming
Kimberly Bussiere and other laid-off employees of Casino Nanaimo have launched a class-action lawsuit against the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Laid-off casino Nanaimo employees have filed a class-action lawsuit in Supreme Court in B.C., claiming the company acted in bad faith and wrongfully dismissed them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to court documents filed April 6, Catherine Fanning, Kimberly Bussiere and Samantha Heffel are leading the civil suit against Casino Nanaimo operators Great Canadian Casinos Inc. and Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.

They claim the casino “failed to discharge their obligations of good faith, honesty and fair dealings with class members in effecting the terminations” of casino workers.

Business was halted March 16, 2020, due to COVID-19, at which time Casino Nanaimo operators laid off employees. Great Canadian also issued a memorandum stating workers were not allowed to “draw down on banked statutory vacation pay.” Utilizing accumulated vacation time “was suspended,” and “long-term disability pay and benefits, for which [the corporation] self-insured, were terminated” immediately, the suit claims.

The plaintiffs allege that when they cleaned out their lockers in July, certain employees who were owed tips received envelopes with cash from a trunk of a manager’s vehicle.

Another memo distributed in September contained “false information” the plaintiffs allege, and outlined a “forced buyout process,” which would be equal to termination pay under the B.C. Employment Standards Act, amounting to one week of pay per year of service up to a maximum of eight weeks, disregarding years of service.

This past January, the company again offered a buyout, said the plaintiffs, but this time capped payouts at $2,500 and changed requirements that settlement money be taken as severance. This would make them ineligible to receive employment insurance, they allege, and in addition, they say another proposal wouldn’t be coming until this summer.

The plaintiffs say that the company should have known that it was “conducting a mass termination of employees without adequate compensation for the longer notice period applicable under the [act].”

The lawsuit said the company is claiming the workers are still employed, as it is continuing to pay for benefits, but the premiums were waived by Manulife Financial and the B.C. government. Bussiere said she and the plaintiffs have been removed from e-mail lists and Facebook pages.

Bussiere also said she couldn’t comment on the monetary compensation sought.

“Some of us have been working there for 30-plus years and myself, 22 years,” said Bussiere. “At my age, it’s hard to get another job and get trained to a position where I would be making what I was making as an employee of the casino. You put in 22 years, you’ve put a lot of time in and you’re expecting to retire and have a pension and all of a sudden you’re unable to access any of that.”

Bussiere said Nanaimo is the only Great Canadian Gaming Corporation casino without a union.

The plaintiffs are being represented by Martin Sheard and Geraldine Teixeira. The News Bulletin has reached out to both for comment.

In an e-mail, Chuck Keeling, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation executive vice-president of stakeholder relations and responsible gaming, said it wasn’t able to say much as it is a legal matter.

“As the matter is before the courts, we do not have a comment,” Keeling said. “We would note, however, we are eagerly anticipating the reopening of Casino Nanaimo as early as July 1, subject to receiving approval from the provincial government and [Dr. Bonnie Henry] to do so. We have been closed due to a government mandated suspension of operations since March 16, 2020, to support the province’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID.

“To support the property’s reopening, we have already called back approximately 75 of our team members, and we are looking forward to having them back on the job.”

The corporation has 21 days after it is served with the notice to file a response.

None of the claims have been proven in a court of law.

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

I joined Black Press in 2010 and cover education, court and RDN. I am a Ma Murray and CCNA award winner.
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