Six McGill students were abruptly fired after working two weeks of a summer telemarketing job at Downshire Capital, a Montreal financial company that used McGill’s Career & Placement Services (CAPS) web site to advertise for the positions in June.
The mass dismissal was triggered after a few employees, including McGill Law I student Kate Searle, asked for a simple written contract from Downshire Capital representative Dan Ryan. By that point, two promised paydays had come and gone without fruition, Searle said.
“I just wanted something in writing, so I came with a contract, and [Ryan] was happy to sign something,” Searle said. Yet while Searle was still in the office, Ryan’s wife happened to phone and ask – over speakerphone – whether Ryan had “fired everyone yet.”
Searle notified other employees and later that day three other students, including Ilana Lowes, a recent McGill Humanistic Studies graduate, also asked for signed contracts.
“The next day, they fired the three of us, saying it was because of the contracts,” Lowes said. “The wife just laid into us about the contracts, basically threatening us – saying, ‘So sue us.’”
When the students returned the following day to collect their wages, they were told to leave and that the cheques would arrive in the mail – which never happened. They instead received their wages in several ways, for instance, some received cash at the Second Cup at the intersection of Parc and Milton from Paul Mastantuono of TelTeck Solutions, and one student who asked to remain anonymous received a personal cheque from a Downshire Capital staff member at Maisonneuve and St. Mathieu more than a month after quitting.
Further, Lowes, Searle, and other students who asked to remain anonymous, explained that students faced continual difficulties extracting their $15 per hour wages – such as receiving verbal abuse on the phone or email, and having to repeatedly phone their bosses to set up a payment time – only for these times to be canceled.
“[Your boss] should be calling you to give us our pay, not the other way around,” said a U2 Science student and former employee who asked to remain anonymous.
Downshire Capital hired the students for a summer project after it partnered with another local company, TelTeck Solutions. Students said an outside representative came to the Downshire offices to tell them about a TelTeck product that monitored vending machine sales or hydro meters.
The students said they were told to make calls to a list of investors and banks from “Momentum Investor Relations on behalf of Telteck Solutions,” to inform the customers about the technology and the TelTeck stock – which trades on the Pink Sheets, meaning it is not listed on major stock exchanges – and to double-check or record their email addresses.
Lowes and four other McGill students met with CAPS Director Gregg Blachford to voice their concerns.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation. Businesses out there are shady, but we can’t monitor every single business,” Blachford said, adding that at first glance the job postings did not raise any concerns for CAPS. In retrospect, he said, they seemed strange due to their vague description and relatively high pay for working in a call centre.
Blachford said that CAPS must maintain a balance between increasing job opportunities for students and avoiding placing them in difficult work situations. He added that each year, CAPS learns of fewer than five instances similar to these students’ experience.
All students who were interviewed explained that the job interview was extremely informal, and was more of a recruitment session. Students also complained of interacting with a series of bosses and managers, some of whom seemed not to know each other.
“We all had suspicions and knew something was off, but the money was good and they seemed like really nice people – other than the wife, she was vile,” Lowes said.
Downshire Capital and Telteck Solutions did not respond to The Daily’s request for an interview.
The original version of this article misidentified Dan Ryan as the owner of Downshire Capital, when in fact the owner is Carol McKeown. The article also stated that nine students were fired; in truth six were fired, three quit.
The original also stated that multiple students were paid with a personal cheque at various locations along Ste Catherine, and that multiple students received nothing for more than a month after being fired. In fact, only one student received a personal cheque, which the student obtained from a Downshire Capital staff member at St Mathieu and Maisonneuve more than a month after quitting.
Further, the original article did not specify who paid the students at Second Cup; it was Paul Mastantuono of TelTeck Solutions.