eDiscovery Daily Blog

Document Reviewers are People Too, Even in Canada, eh?: eDiscovery Trends

A couple of weeks ago, a $384 million class action was filed in Canada against professional services firm Deloitte LLP on behalf of hundreds of lawyers working at a document-review company it acquired last year. Even in Canadian dollars, that’s a lot.

As reported on by Canadian Lawyer’s blog Legal Feeds (Document review workers launch class action against Deloitte), on March 9, Canadian document review attorney Shireen Sondhi filed suit against Deloitte, which acquired ATD Legal Services in 2014, alleging document review attorneys were improperly classified as independent contractors (thereby exempt from protection under the Employment Standards Act).

Sondhi claims she and her colleagues were for years denied statutory labor protections, such as notice of termination. She also claims that they were also deprived of entitlements such as vacation pay and overtime – with even bathroom breaks docked from their overall compensation.

Despite the absence of statutory protections, the plaintiff alleges she and her class members agreed to the onerous conditions because they could ill afford to make demands of their employer amid Canada’s cutthroat legal jobs market.

“For many young lawyers, saddled with staggering student debt and desperate not to leave the field of law, document review is a last resort,” the statement of claim reads. “Deloitte is one of only a few document review companies in Ontario, and for many Class Members, represents their sole source of income.”

“These workers were supervised in Deloitte’s offices, they didn’t provide their own tools, or control their own schedules,” said plaintiff’s counsel Andrew Monkhouse in a statement. “It is simple logic that a lawyer, hired into a non-legal job, would be eligible for every protection under the law that non-lawyers are afforded.”

The conflict between Sondhi and her employer arose after Deloitte acquired ATD in January 2014. The claim alleges that, upon Deloitte’s acquisition, the new parent company imposed terms on document review workers that suggested a tacit acknowledgment of potential liability.

Deloitte required document reviewers to contract to an intermediary, Procom Consultants Group (also named in the suit), which then began withholding employment insurance (EI) and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) deductions. The claim alleges this intermediary served to minimize Deloitte’s liability.

Procom then charged Deloitte a fee amounting to $3 per hour – a charge passed on to the document reviewers, who received no benefit from the arrangement. All told, the fee, along with the EI and CPP deductions, reduced the take-home pay of document reviewers from $50 per hour to just over $40 per hour.

A major part of the dispute is whether document review is considered legal work. As reported in Law Times earlier this month, Sondhi says an amended Deloitte contract later took out a clause that deemed the document review work to be non-legal but described it as a “data processing and computer services” function that still doesn’t require LawPRO liability insurance. At that point, Sondhi says she sent an e-mail to the management team expressing the concerns she still had.

“I got this e-mail back from an employee at Procom saying, ‘Deloitte is not prepared to change the contract any further. Either you sign the contract or you consider your relationship terminated. Don’t come into the office tomorrow morning,’” she says. “So I wrote back and said, ‘I’m not comfortable with this. You haven’t answered my question, and I will not be signing the contract.’”

“I was shocked that Deloitte went as far as terminating me for vocalizing opposition to the Procom contract,” said Sondhi in a statement. “The entire situation reinforced to me just how great the power disparity was between Deloitte and I.”

So, what do you think? Does the class of document reviewers have a case? Should the work that document reviewers perform be considered legal work? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.