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Senators continue to battle Melnyk's ex-pilot over $13,000, despite labour board ruling

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk chats with defenceman Thomas Chabot, left, during the annual Eugene Melnyk Skate for Kids at Canadian Tire Centre on Dec. 20.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk chats with defenceman Thomas Chabot, left, during the annual Eugene Melnyk Skate for Kids at Canadian Tire Centre on Dec. 20.

When Llewella Morgan submitted her resignation as chief pilot for Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk last May, she gave three weeks’ notice. Pretty standard stuff.

Four days later, she picked up Melnyk at his home in Barbados and flew him to Ottawa. The following day — May 15 — she noticed that her pay since April 30 had not been deposited in her bank account. That was unusual.

After multiple inquiries, the pilot was told her services were no longer required and that she needn’t show up at Ottawa’s private aircraft hanger for her next scheduled flight — a trip to ferry Melnyk to Toronto.

The circumstances surrounding Morgan’s termination were the trigger for a legal skirmish that eventually wound up before Johanne Cavé, a vice-chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

In a 20-page ruling published this month, Cavé ordered Capital Sports & Entertainment — the Senators’ operating firm — to pay Morgan $12,273.75 for unpaid wages, vacation pay and severance, in addition to a week’s worth of unpaid benefits. At most, the cost to the team would be $13,000.

CS&E hired Gowling WLG Canada lawyer Craig Stehr to guide the defence and the company’s chief financial officer Brian Crombie provided testimony. The obvious question: Why would the company expend so much effort on what seems a relatively minor claim?

Melnyk, the Senators and Morgan did not respond to queries, but Melnyk’s lawyer did.

“We acknowledge the Board’s recent ruling,” Stehr said. “However, as is their right under the rules of procedure and practice, the Ottawa Senators intend to appeal.”

CS&E had advanced a number of arguments as to why Morgan wasn’t owed money; Cavé dismissed the key ones.

According to the Board ruling, Crombie argued that Morgan was not entitled to her claim because she was not an employee of Capital Sports & Entertainment. It did not set her hours or supervise her work, Crombie said, nor did CS&E own a private plane.

But in her decision, Cavé said Capital Sports was unequivocally Morgan’s employer, adding that Melnyk was the one who directed her schedule and compensation arrangements. His use of the private jet for personal reasons unrelated to Senators’ hockey, for which he later reimbursed the company, had no bearing on the matter, Cavé said. And the fact the aircraft was leased through Flightpath “does not determine the employment status of the pilot who operates the plane,” the Board vice-chair concluded.

According to the ruing, CS&E agreed that Morgan hadn’t been paid for work performed between May 1 and May 15.  But the company argued it could withhold that amount to cover what it claimed was an outstanding balance related to Morgan’s training.

In her ruling, Cavé said there was no balance owing — Morgan had satisfied her training obligations by staying with CS&E for a minimum of six months. The pilot met that obligation 15 days before giving notice.

Morgan testified that she tendered her resignation because the job required her to work nearly 19 days per month on average, compared with the 12 days per month she had expected to put in. Melnyk paid her a salary of $130,000 per year.

The labour board has ordered Melnyk, through CS&E, to pay Morgan $5,591.08 for time worked in May, and $4,182.67 for vacation pay. Because she was terminated prior to the end of her three-week notice, the board ruled she is also entitled to $2,500 in severance pay, or one week’s salary.

Morgan will not, however, be able to claim the cost of an air ticket from Ottawa to her home in Winnipeg, an expense she incurred the day she was terminated and CS&E left her stranded. Cavé noted that a reimbursement such as this is an expense, not compensation, and therefore not covered by the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

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