Jennifer McCrea was told she couldn’t access sickness benefits while on maternity leave. (Canadian Press)

Feds settle lawsuit with moms denied extra EI benefits for sick leave

The government said it made the wrong decision and is agreeing to pay an estimated $11 million to about 2,000 women

It was seven years ago this week that the federal government told new mom Jennifer McCrea she couldn’t access sickness benefits while on maternity leave.

On Tuesday, the government publicly said it made the wrong decision and is agreeing to pay an estimated $11 million to about 2,000 women who, like McCrea, were blocked from accessing 15 extra weeks of employment insurance payments on top of a year’s worth of maternity benefits — despite the rules saying they could.

McCrea, the woman at the centre of the case, said the settlement had left her in tears most of the day with the burden of the case now lifted from her shoulders.

“There were a lot of people that this happened to and we wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to anybody else in the future and that we needed to help them,” McCrea said in a telephone interview from her home in Calgary.

“Absolutely we’ve been successful in doing that. Whether that took seven years or 17 years, that was originally what it had to be and it wasn’t just about me…. It was about helping others.”

McCrea was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2011, while she was on maternity leave with her youngest son, Logan, who was eight months old at the time.

She had a double mastectomy in August 2011 and was deemed cancer-free shortly afterwards, but was denied sickness benefits, despite a 2002 law that allowed new parents to access the additional weeks of EI payments.

McCrea took the government to court in 2012 alleging thousands of others were also denied benefits between 2002 and 2013, when the Tories clarified the law for all future claims.

The problem was that prior to 2013, the government wouldn’t let new mothers and fathers switch from parental to sickness benefits until they could show they were otherwise available for work.

During the 2015 federal election the Liberals vowed to put an end to the legal dispute if they were elected only to rack up a legal bill of more than $2.5 million fighting the women in court after they formed government.

Federal lawyers gave the first hints earlier this year that the Liberals were ready to settle the case. Months of negotiations and paperwork followed before documents were officially submitted in August.

The settlement is conditional on Federal Court approval that is expected to happen in early December and payments should begin flowing to eligible women by next spring.

“I’m happy about it. It’s just a tremendous relief,” McCrea said.

In a statement, the government said it “recognizes the challenges faced by Canadians who cannot work because of illness, injury and other family challenges” and reached a settlement in the case to “bring closure to these legal proceedings.”

Ottawa has not asked for any upper limit for pay outs, meaning federal coffers will pay out 100 per cent of the wrongfully denied benefits, including to families of women who have died. The total cost could be between $8.5 million and $11 million, but that will depend on the number of eligible women.

McCrea’s lawyer, Stephen Moreau, said the government’s decision to not impose a cap on payments was significant, particularly after a protracted legal fight.

“Although this has taken a long time to get here, six and a half years of litigation, I am happy,” he said.

The women in the case, he said, have “persevered and they’re going to get 100 per cent what they’re owed.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Motor Mountain Nationals in Kimberley this weekend

Kimberley’s summer festivals continue non-stop, with the Motor Mountain Nationals up this… Continue reading

A great weekend of soccer at JulyFest tournament

The annual JulyFest Soccer Tournament had another successful year with teams from… Continue reading

Know it All: Summer entertainment in Kimberley Cranbrook

Cranbrook Arts The featured artist this month in the gallery at Cranbrook… Continue reading

Neither rain nor cold can stop Kimberley’s JulyFest

JulyFest attendees managed to ‘Get Festy’ despite the rain and cold, says… Continue reading

VIDEO: Missing teens named as suspects in three northern B.C. killings

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are wanted in the deaths of Lucas Fowler, Chynna Deese, unknown man

Northern B.C. double homicide, suspicious death: A timeline of what we know

Two teens from Port Alberni are now wanted Canada-wide in connection to the three deaths

B.C. teacher suspended for professional misconduct

Grade 8 shop teacher admits to use of vulgar language and profanities toward students

B.C. wine industry legend Harry McWatters dies

Among his accomplishments, McWatters founded the province’s first estate winery, Sumac Ridge Estate

Provincial health body refuses to release full findings of cancer triage system audit

Information and Privacy Commissioner asked to review redactions

Southern resident killer whale died of blunt trauma, likely from ship

J34 was found more than two years ago near Sechelt, but the necropsy findings have now been released

B.C. rail crossing death highlights risks for people in wheelchairs: watchdog

Transportation Safety Board points to ‘persistent risks faced by persons using assistive devices’

B.C. teens wanted in double homicide, suspicious death spotted in Manitoba

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky were thought to have been seen in the Gillam area

Nelson’s net-zero ready house is a glimpse into B.C.’s future

One local builder set out to construct the province’s ideal energy efficient home

Most Read