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

Langley hospice partners with potters for new event

A cocktail-party inspired fundraiser sold out just days before the big night.

VIDEO: Langley kids meet ‘Darth Santa’

Stars Wars villain helps raise funds for Langley Christmas Bureau

Otter Co-op’s CEO wins top business award

Jack Nicholson was awarded the Business in Vancouver CEO of the year award on Nov. 15.

Cyclist injured in Langley hit-and-run

Rider was taken to hospital

Phasing plans for Brookswood defeated

Council voted against staggering neighbourhood planning in Brookswood-Fernridge.

VIDEO: B.C. legislature clerk, sergeant at arms suspended for criminal investigation

Clerk of the House Craig James, Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz on administrative leave

Police renew call to ID suspect who pushed Surrey man into traffic near PNE

VPD haven’t received enough tips in the months since

5 to start your day

Police try to thwart retaliation after Hells Angels member killed, criminal investigation at B.C. legislature and more

Watchdog calls for probe into police board spending on former Victoria police chief

Police Complaint Commissioner says accountable and transparent review is in public interest

South Korean named Interpol president in blow to Russia

South Korea’s Kim Jong Yang was elected as Interpol’s president edging out a longtime veteran of Russia’s security services.

E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickens 18 people in Ontario, Quebec

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it’s working with U.S. authorities to determine the source of the romaine lettuce those who got ill were exposed to.

Trump defies calls to punish crown prince for writer’s death

The U.S. earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the Oct. 2 killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions, including cancelling arms sales.

British, EU leaders to meet as Brexit deadline looms

The U.K. and the European Union agreed last week on a 585-page document sealing the terms of Britain’s departure.

Richard Oland was killed ‘in a rage,’ prosecutor tells son’s murder trial

The verdict from Oland’s 2015 murder trial was set aside on appeal in 2016. Richard Oland, 69, was found dead in his Saint John office on July 7, 2011.

Most Read