Case management masters decry salary discrepancy

As the province seeks more austerity, case management masters in Ontario are taking the government to task for paying them less than traditional masters despite doing the same work.

In its submission to a remuneration commission set up to deal with the salary issue, the Masters’ Association of Ontario says case management masters earn significantly less than their traditional counterparts and suggests their “financial insecurity” puts their judicial independence at risk.

Despite performing the same work, case management masters earn $81,227 less a year in salary and $100,000 less in pensions than traditional masters, according to the association.

“The association submits that the current compensation level of masters falls short of the requirements of financial security,” the association’s submission reads.

“Given that the salary, pension, and overall financial security of the masters are so inferior in comparison to that of their colleagues, the traditional masters and the judges of the [Ontario Court of Justice], reasonably and objectively informed members of the public could think the masters as a group, as a result of their discriminatory treatment, are susceptible to economic manipulation, regardless of the objective truth.”

According to the association, case management masters haven’t had a pay increase for three years. It says their total salary increase in the last six years has been just 1.5 per cent while traditional masters saw a nearly 13.5-per-cent boost to their remuneration over the same period.

For its part, the Ontario government says the pay for case management masters was the result of “an agreed-upon process between the parties” in 2011. The salary arrived at was appropriate, the government says in its submission.

“From the inception of the office, the limited jurisdiction of case management masters has made the position distinct,” it says in its submission, which goes on to suggest raises in line with the consumer price index in 2014 and 2015 following two years of no increases.

But lawyer James Morton says the pay discrepancy between traditional and case management masters is more a “historic hangover” than a reflection of any differences in their roles.

“There’s no question that today the case management masters do exactly the same kind of work as the regular masters,” he says.

“The only reason for the remuneration differences is historical.”

While case management masters had a more limited role when the government began appointing them in the 1990s, they almost immediately began doing everything their traditional colleagues did due to the lack of masters at the time, says Morton.

The Ontario government has now stopped appointing traditional masters with only two remaining in office.

Colleen Bauman, counsel for the masters’ association, says she can’t comment on the matter.

“We will let our submissions speak for themselves,” she says, adding the final oral submissions will take place in July.

Ciaran Ganley, spokesman for the Ministry of Government Services, also declined to comment.

“It would be inappropriate to comment as the parties are still before the commission,” he says.

The commission head, Larry Banack, will go through numerous submissions from the parties and others on the matter. One submission from Superior Court Master David Sandler, a traditional master, recommends his case management counterparts earn “exactly the same” pay.

Sandler noted two case management masters who do construction lien work do “exactly the same type of work I was doing as full-time construction lien master and now do as part-time construction lien master.”

He noted “the other 14 case management masters currently hearing civil motions, both in Toronto, and in Ottawa, and Windsor, are doing, inter alia, exactly the same work I used to do from 1977 until 1992, as a traditional civil motions master.”

Sandler called the salary discrepancies “unfair” and said: “There is absolutely no justification for this discrepancy.

“It is particularly troublesome to me when one considers that all the traditional masters were male, and that [out of] the 16 current case management masters, seven are female (44 per cent).”

Lawyer John McLeish says the role of case management masters is hugely important at a time when the courts are struggling to maintain the flow of cases without procedural delays.

“They work just as hard as traditional masters,” he says, noting that as a trial lawyer representing plaintiffs, he relies heavily on case management masters to move his cases along.

Ontario Bar Association president Pascale Daigneault, Ontario Trial Lawyers Association president Charles Gluckstein, and Toronto Lawyers Association president Joseph Neuberger also wrote letters asking the commission to abolish the difference between traditional and case management masters.

“In the opinion of the TLA, there is no distinction to be drawn between the functions of case management masters and ‘traditional’ masters. They all perform the same roles and, in fact, the case management masters may perform additional ‘case management’ functions,” wrote Neuberger.

“The only distinction arises from the fact that the case management masters are not compensated equally with their peers. There is simply no principled basis upon which the discrepancy can or should be maintained.”

The role of case management masters was an effort in the mid-1990s to free Superior Court judges from the need to address “less judicial” matters, according to the government.

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