Former LIAT employee awarded US$1.55 million in age discrimination case

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Virgin Islands Daily News – A former LIAT employee fired as a result of age discrimination was awarded $1.55 million in damages by a jury on St. Croix on Tuesday.

“I think the message it sends is that there’s no place for age discrimination in the Virgin Islands, and LIAT fired a man who worked there for 47 years and essentially threw him out the door with no notice, simply because he was, in their mind, too old to do his job, even though he was doing his work competently and well. They judged him on the basis of his age and not his performance, and they made up reasons for firing him that we proved to the jury were false,” attorney Vincent Colianni said Wednesday.

The employee, William Cherubin, began working for LIAT as a ticket agent on St. Croix in 1968, and was promoted to ground operations manager in 1973, according to a complaint filed in V.I. Superior Court in 2017.

In 2011, LIAT offered all employees over age 62 a retirement package in exchange for voluntary resignations, but Cherubin wanted to keep working and declined the offer.

On June 4, 2015, LIAT fired Cherubin without notice, citing “several incidents involving violations of company policy,” including two alleged incidents that occurred in 2009 and 2012, according to the complaint.

The other incident was resolved in March 2015 when Cherubin reimbursed LIAT for a bounced customer check, according to the complaint.

“LIAT’s actual reason for firing Cherubin was his age,” according to the complaint. “Cherubin was 70 at the time he was fired. LIAT assigned Cherubin’s job responsibilities to a younger manager.”

Diane Shurland is LIAT’s legal Counsel and Company Secretary.

The V.I. Code prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of age, but Colianni said convincing a jury that age discrimination occurred is easier said than done.

“It’s hard to prove because there’s rarely direct evidence of discrimination,” Colianni said. “We had to prove it through circumstantial evidence by showing their reasons for firing him — their excuses for firing him — were false, were not believable.”

Colianni said employers throughout the territory should be on notice that firing someone purely on the basis of age is illegal, and potentially costly.

“We’re thrilled with the verdict, we think it sends that message not only to LIAT but to all employers in the Virgin Islands,” Colianni said.

The jury in the case found that LIAT unlawfully discriminated against Cherubin, and awarded him monetary damages totaling $1,551,320.