The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right of former employees to pursue a class action against their former employer after the employer unilaterally amended their post-retirement health insurance benefits to their detriment in Vivendi Canada Inc. v Dell’Aniello, 2014 SCC 1. The Quebec Superior Court had originally disallowed the action on the basis that it did not raise “identical, similar or related” questions within the meaning of Article 1003(a) of the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure. It found 5 different groups of employees who, based on their retirement date, had received different information and might have different rights from those of the petitioning employee. It felt that a determination of that employee’s rights would not have resolved the dispute for the majority of the remaining employees. That assessment was rejected by the Quebec Court of Appeal. In the opinion of the Court of Appeal, the validity of the plan amendments was an ‘identical, similar or related’ question for all group members. The individual questions to be determined for each employee could co-exist with the determination of that common issue.
On further appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal. It held that an issue could be “identical, similar or related” if addressing that issue enabled all the claims to move forward and avoided duplication of the analysis for each group member. It could meet that criterion even if the issue was answered differently for one group member than for another, as long as the answer did not give rise to conflicting interests among the members. The Court also noted that the Article 1003(a) requirement was broader and more flexible than the ‘common issue’ requirement for a class action in the common law provinces, suggesting that its decision may have limited application outside Quebec.