Ottawa BlackBerry employee launches class action lawsuit on behalf of 300 staff

An Ottawa resident is suing BlackBerry for more than $20 million, alleging he lost his severance entitlements after being transferred to the high-tech firm’s business partner, automaker Ford.

A notice of claim filed by local law firm Nelligan O’Brien Payne says Ottawa’s David Parker worked for BlackBerry for 14 years before being among more than 300 employees from across Canada who were transferred to Ford last fall.

Around the same time, the tech company – which was moving away from manufacturing its own smartphones in a shift lawyers say affected a portion of its workforce – announced a deal with Ford to expand the use of the firm's QNX automotive and security software in the car manufacturer's vehicles.

According to the law firm, this transfer of employees amounted to a termination of the BlackBerry employees’ employment, which should have triggered various entitlements.

Additionally, it means the former BlackBerry employees lost their years of service without any compensation, the notice of claim states.

“Only after employees accepted employment with the business partner, BlackBerry informed the employees that they had resigned their employment,” Nelligan O’Brien Payne said in a statement. “BlackBerry provided resignation letters for the employees to sign and dictated their last date of employment.”

BlackBerry said it rejects the claims.

"We have reviewed the allegations in the lawsuit, and are confident we complied with all our obligations to our employees. Therefore, we believe the case lacks merit and we will defend against it vigorously," said Sarah McKinney, BlackBerry's director of corporate communications.

Andrew Reinholdt, a labour and employment lawyer at Nelligan O’Brien Payne, told OBJ that “a fair number” of the more than 300 affected employees are based in Ottawa.

He said the amount of compensation sought in the class action will vary from employee to employee, depending in large part on how long they worked at BlackBerry.

The notice of claim states Mr. Parker is seeking $20 million in “bad faith and punitive damages” as well as provincial and statutory entitlements stemming from the termination.

The allegations contained in the statement of claim have not been proven in court.