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Judge to decide whether to certify CIBC overtime suit

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will appear in an Ontario courtroom this week, where a judge will hear arguments and decide whether to certify an overtime lawsuit against the bank as a class action.

Proceedings will begin Monday and are scheduled to run until Friday, according to Douglas Elliott, partner at Roy Elliott O'Connor LLP, the firm representing frontline CIBC workers such as tellers.

The $600-million suit over alleged unpaid overtime, filed in June, 2007, is the first such major national class action case to reach this stage in Canada. Labour lawyers said they will watch the case because of its implications for other employers.

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"I will absolutely be following the CIBC case this week," said Christine Thomlinson, partner at Toronto-based Rubin Thomlinson LLP. "It is important because employers do not want to defend class action lawsuits, given the time and costs involved."

If the CIBC workers are successful, "it might signal to future employer defendants the risks of proceeding with class action suits such as these and may encourage early settlement of such claims," she added.

Other major employers have opted to settle overtime suits rather than take matters to court. Accountant firm KPMG, for example, settled with its employees and is now resolving the outstanding employee claims.

The representative of the CIBC class action is Dara Fresco, a teller who claims the bank required her to work more than the required 40 hours a week without paying staff time-and-a-half as stipulated in the federal labour code. CIBC disputes the claim.

Mr. Elliott had originally pegged the class at about 10,000 people, but said "CIBC has suggested it could include over 30,000 current and former employees."

Such class actions are relatively new to Canada and this one is attracting interest "because of its scope and relative rarity, because certification is being contested and because of the frequency of such cases in the U.S.," Mr. Elliott said.

At the time it was launched, it was the largest unpaid overtime class action ever in Canada.

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The hearing begins today before Justice Lax of the Ontario Superior Court.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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