Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice allows BlackBerry class action lawsuit to proceed

An Ontario judge has cleared the way for a class action on behalf of about 300 former BlackBerry employees who are seeking severance or termination pay from the technology company.

The suit alleges, among other things, that BlackBerry had attempted to avoid paying the employees what they were owed by arranging to transfer the work they did to another employer, Ford Motor Company of Canada.

Class action laws are designed to give people with a common grievance the ability to pursue one lawsuit rather than several individual actions that would be prohibitively expensive for the plaintiffs.

In a decision this week, Justice Michel Charbonneau wrote that Mr. Parker’s application satisfied the criteria for a class-action proceeding. The original filling claimed a breach of good faith, and that BlackBerry misled the workers with a transaction that circumvents statutory entitlements. It sought both punitive damages and severance benefits for terminated employees.

“The class members were told by BlackBerry that if they refused Ford’s offer, BlackBerry would make serious efforts to redeployment in other tasks at BlackBerry but there was no guarantee that they would be employed,” the judge wrote.

“Ford told the class employees that if they accepted Ford’s offer they would not be entitled to retain their seniority, or any benefits and entitlements they had acquired during their years of service with BlackBerry.”

Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP filed a notice of action in Ontario Superior Court in 2017 on behalf of David Parker. Mr. Parker claimed he had accepted a transfer to Ford, a strategic partner with BlackBerry through the latter’s QNX connected-car software platform, only to find that he would not receive termination benefits from BlackBerry, or retain his years of service.

At the time, the company said it was “confident we complied with all our obligations to our employees. Therefore, we believe the case lacks merit and we will defend against it vigorously.” The company had argued the case didn’t qualify as a class action.

However, Justice Michel Charbonneau says in a six-page ruling dated May 27 that the suit had satisfied the criteria outlined by the Class Proceedings Act.

Charbonneau wrote that it will be up to a trial judge to determine whether the process was designed to terminate the plaintiffs’ employment without having to pay them severance.

Although difficult to prove, the theory of the plaintiff is not without merit,” the judgment says. “It must be remembered that the merits of the action are not an issue as long as there is a viable cause of action.”

BlackBerry’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

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