CHARLOTTE AMALIE, United States Virgin Islands (CMC) — A judge of the Superior Court of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) has dismissed an appeal by the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, against a US$1.55 million in damages awarded to a former employee.
Justice Douglas A Brady in his ruling said that “the totality of the trial evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to inference that LIAT’s proffered reasons were false” when it dismissed William Cherubin.
The judge also noted the airline, which is owned by several Caribbean governments, had “discharged Cherubim because of his age and in violation of the Virgin Islands Civil Rights Act.
“The Court will deny LIAT’s renewed motion for judgement as a matter of law,’ Justice Brady said in his ruling made on May 13.
“Evidence of Cherubin’s emotional pain and suffering following his termination was sufficient that the Court cannot find that the jury’s verdict was seriously erroneous as against the clear weight of the evidence.
“Accordingly, the Court will not interfere with the jury’s award and LIAT’s motion for a new trial will be denied,” Justice Brady ruled.
Cherubin had taken the financially-strapped airline to court in February claiming he had been dismissed because of his age.
According to court documents, on June 4, 2015, LIAT fired Cherubin, who was then 70 years old, without notice, citing several incidents involving violations of company policy, including two alleged incidents that occurred in 2009 and 2012.
Cherubin and his attorneys alleged that LIAT actually fired him because of his age and not because of poor performance, as the airline argued. Virgin Island laws prohibit the discrimination of employees because of age.
In 2011, LIAT offered all employees over age 62 a retirement package in exchange for voluntary resignations, but Cherubin turned down the offer.
Cherubin’s attorney Vince Colianni said then that the reason LIAT gave was false, insisting “the real reason was age discrimination”.
At the end of the trial, the Court had ordered the Antigua-based airline that serves 15 destinations, to pay Cherubin damages totalling US$1.55 million, noting that LIAT “unlawfully discriminated against him by discharging him from employment because of his age and awarded damages for lost wages, and mental pain and suffering”.
During the trial, Cherubin said that he was surprised at the decision of the airline to dismiss him, saying “I did not expect this kind of thing should come to me after my years of service and what I did for the company”.
He said when he was terminated it felt like a “bombshell” and “I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen to me.
“For the respect I have in this community, it was a shame for me to face them and my family. I could not go out as I wanted,” he told the Court.
In his ruling, Justice Brady said the airline “had not shown that the evidence before the Court was insufficient to support the jury’s damages award and LIAT presents no basis for claiming that the damages awarded is so excessive as to violate LIAT’s constitutional right to due process”.