02/19/2013 07:51 EST | Updated 04/21/2013 05:12 EDT

Mom Denied Benefits While On Leave Seeks Compensation

A Calgary woman who is part of a class-action lawsuit is calling on the federal government to compensate mothers such as herself who were denied sickness benefits while on parental leave.

After giving birth to her son in 2010, Carissa Kasbohm was in and out of hospital for another three months to fight a rare blood condition called TTP.

"My immune system was attacking any of my healthy cells…Because I was sick, I couldn't be a parent. I couldn't do anything," she said.

Kasbohm says she was told she wasn't eligible for employment insurance sickness benefits because she was on maternity leave.

"It was devastating," she said. "It would have helped us a lot."

The $450-million class-action lawsuit was filed by Toronto-based lawyer Stephen Moreau, although it must be certified by a court to proceed. None of the claims have been proven in court.

The government had amended EI legislation in 2002 so working women who fall ill while on leave are eligible for benefits, but the class action's statement of claim suggests the EI Commission failed to fully implement the changes that were unanimously adopted by Parliament.

"The Commission incorrectly adopted 'availability to work' criteria to 2002 amendment claims such that no claimant who made a sickness leave claim while on parental leave would be deemed by the Commission to be sufficiently 'available for work' and, thus, no claimant would ever qualify for sickness benefits," the claim states.

Could effect 60,000 mothers

Moreau said this lawsuit could effect an estimated 60,000 mothers whose EI sickness claims have been denied since 2002.

Last year, the federal government introduced more amendments to EI benefits through Bill C-44.

It provides up to 15 weeks of benefits through EI, meaning workers can either pause their parental leave to take the sickness leave, or take the sickness leave once the parental leave is up.

The bill — given royal assent on Dec. 14 — also lays out already-announced details of the government's plan to provide EI benefits to the parents of critically ill or injured children and for parents of missing and murdered children.

But the recent changes won't help parents like Kasbohm, as the changes are not retroactive.

Now Kasbohm is hoping for a positive outcome in court, and she is not alone.

Jennifer McCrea, another Calgary mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer while on maternity leave last July. McCrea’s claim was denied two months later.

They were inspired by Natalya Rougas’s precedent-setting case last summer. She was awarded the maximum 15 weeks of sickness benefits in addition to her combined 50 weeks of maternal and parental benefits after being diagnosed with breast cancer while on maternity leave in 2010.

She was awarded roughly $6,000, or $400 a week.

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