Court of Appeal of Quebec

Procureur général du Québec c. Groleau

Hogue, Sansfaçon, Baudouin

Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court dismissing an application for declinatory exception. Allowed.

The appellant appeals from a judgment dismissing its application for declinatory exception ratione materiae filed in respect of an application for authorization to institute a class action against the government of Quebec on the grounds that it is the entity that negotiates the working conditions and wages of public sector teachers. The respondents allege a lack of pay equity, work overload, and physical and psychological violence. The appellant submits that the issues raised are covered by a collective agreement and fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of a grievance arbitrator, whereas matters arising under the Pay Equity Act (CQLR, c. E-12.001) are within the purview of the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) and the Tribunal administratif du travail (TAT). The trial judge found that, because the government of Quebec was a third party, the ordinary courts of law have jurisdiction to hear and decide an action in civil liability against it.

With respect to the allegations of violence, harassment, and overwork, the essence of the planned class action concerns working conditions expressly or implicitly set out in the collective agreements. By directing their action against the government of Quebec, the respondents did not change the true essence of the dispute. The fact that the Superior Court was found to have jurisdiction because the government of Quebec is a third party and not the employer would allow the respondents to circumvent the rule whereby collective labour relation disputes are decided by a grievance arbitrator when they arise from the interpretation or application of collective agreements.

The purpose of the Pay Equity Act is to correct wage gaps caused by systemic discrimination based on sex.  A complaint in this case must be presented to the CNESST, and the employee or the complainant may subsequently seize the TAT of a decision he or she finds unsatisfactory. The legislature has explicitly conferred jurisdiction on the TAT to decide actions related to the Pay Equity Act. The TAT exercises its jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other tribunal or adjudicative body.

Because the Superior Court’s jurisdiction over disputes concerning collective agreements and those arising under the Pay Equity Act has been removed, it does not have jurisdiction to hear and decide the class action the respondents seek authorization to institute. The application for declinatory exception therefore should have been granted.

Text of the decision: http://citoyens.soquij.qc.ca

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