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TAVIA GRANT AND VIRGINIA GALT

Friday, May 16, 2008

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has challenged claims that it routinely forces employees to work unpaid overtime, filing affidavits from more than 50 front-line employees who say the bank is a good place to work.

The affidavits, from branch employees and managers from across the country, were filed in the Ontario Superior Court yesterday in connection with a $600-million class-action suit over unpaid overtime that was launched against the bank last June.

The case has been closely watched by employers and lawyers because it may set the tone for other suits involving unpaid overtime. Class actions of this nature are new to Canada, but common in the United States.

Lawyers for the plaintiff said they plan to file a response in mid-July.

"We remain confident in our client's position, and we will be proceeding with the certification hearing," Douglas Elliott, a Toronto-based partner at Roy Elliott O'Connor, said in an e-mailed statement.

The court still has to decide whether to certify the suit as a class action, and a hearing will be held in December. The original plaintiff in the case was Dara Fresco, a Toronto-area teller and personal banker who has worked at the bank for about a decade.

The documents filed yesterday, totalling more than 1,800 pages, are part of the bank's response to a motion seeking class-action status. They also included affidavits from executives, along with some "expert opinions" on the bank's overtime policies and working conditions.

The affidavits from CIBC employees filed by the bank show that "these employees ... strongly appreciate the working environment that the bank provides," CIBC spokesman Rob McLeod said in an interview.

The bank contends that employees are not routinely expected to work overtime to complete their jobs and that if overtime is worked, staff are compensated with pay or time off in lieu.

If employees have a problem with overtime, they have "numerous" internal avenues to pursue and the right to file a complaint under the Canada Labour Code if an employment issue can't be resolved internally, the bank said.

CIBC employs more than 37,000 people.

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