Canada Pension Plan nurses win huge gender-discrimination settlement

Nurses who work for the Canada Pension Plan have won a major gender-discrimination settlement that could reach more than $200 million, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

The nurses, most of them women, determine the eligibility of people applying for CPP disability benefits. They filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Right Tribunal that their salaries of $50,000-$60,000 a year was half that of CPP doctors, a male-dominated group that performed essentially the same job.

The tribunal, in its 2007 decision, sided with the nurses and ruled they were being discriminated against on the basis of gender.

However, a second tribunal ruling denied the nurses compensation for wage loss or pain and suffering. The nurses successfully appealed in the courts, triggering negotiations with the federal Treasury Board, the Citizen said.

Under the settlement, endorsed by the tribunal, nurses will be paid $160 million but other elements of it, including adjustments to pension benefits, could bring the ultimate payout past $200 million, Laurence Armstrong, the lawyer representing most of the nurses, told the Citizen.

The settlement covers nurses going back more than three decades, which means some could collect as much as $250,000, he said.

Besides settlements based on the periods the nurses worked, each will also receive $2,000 for pain and suffering, over and above a $2.3 million pain-and-suffering award handed out by the tribunal last year.

[Related: Postal workers win 28-year pay equity fight]

It's not known exactly how many nurses will receive payments. The original complaint filed in 2004 involved 417 nurses, but Armstrong said another 250 who were not named are also eligible. That figure could increase if retired nurses who haven't yet been identified come forward, he said.

Negotiations with the Treasury Board began three months ago. The Citizen reported the nurses wanted back pay equal to 80 per cent of the salary earned by CPP doctors but settled for less.

"One of the things that was important to us was finality," Armstrong told the Citizen, calling the settlement a "rational compromise."

"Otherwise, we would have just spent years in appeals again. This way, it's a done deal and they can get on with their lives."

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the nurses' bargaining agent since last year, welcomed the settlement.

"Today we can finally celebrate a huge victory for justice and equality," Ruth Walden, the original complainant, said in a news release from the union.

"After eight years of investing time and resources in this fight for fairness while continuing to deliver an important service to the public, our members will finally be compensated."

Institute president Gary Corbett criticized the time it took to deal with the inequity. He also slammed the Conservative government's 2009 Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, which he said will make it harder to address such workplace gender discrimination in the future.