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In a landmark case, the Federal Court of Appeal is being asked to rule if Employment Insurance discriminates against women. The Court will hear the case on November 19 in Edmonton.

The court challenge is the latest chapter in a battle that began in 1998 involving Kelly Lesiuk, a Winnipeg nurse and mother who worked part-time because of her childcare responsibilities. At the time, Lesiuk, who was pregnant with her second child, was denied UI benefits because she was 33 hours short of the minimum 700 hours needed to qualify. UI later became Employment Insurance when the program was changed.

Under the former UI rules, Lesiuk would have qualified for benefits. She appealed the decision to a Board of Referees, but her appeal was denied. So she appealed to an Umpire.

Lesiuk argued that UI eligibility requirements discriminate against women because as primary caregivers many women are forced to work part-time hours and are therefore unable to accumulate enough hours to qualify for benefits.

Justice Roger Salhany agreed with that argument. His 2001 ruling made it clear that the current EI rules violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they discriminate against women.

Rather than changing the legislation, the federal government has appealed the ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal.

Given the importance of this case for all Canadian women, CUPE National and CUPE 4400, representing workers with the Toronto District School Board, applied for intervener status. That application was denied.

CUPE 4400 has launched similar challenges in the Ontario courts. The local argues the new rules for EI violate the Charter because they discriminate on the basis of sex, disability, and parental status.

Because the outcome of the Lesiuk case will have implications for all working mothers, its expected the case will eventually make its way to the Supreme