Legal Memorandum: Issues in Employment Claims under VI Laws

Issue: Whether issues in a wrongful discharge suit and an unemployment compensation claim are considered the same under Virgin Islands law.

Area of Law: Employee Law
Keywords: Wrongful discharge suit; Unemployment compensation claim
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 850 P.2d 996; 853 P.2d 1120; 429 N.W.2d 169; 815 F.2d 641; 768 F.2d 245; 517 N.E.2d 390; 57 S.W.3d 271; 865 F.2d 235; 697 N.E.2d 983; 786 P.2d 662; 862 P.2d 1293; 732 P.2d 1160; 791 F. Supp. 1529
Cited Statutes: 24 V.I.C. § 76, § 76(a), § 301, § 304(b)(3); V.I.C. § 61
Date: 06/01/2007

In Harrilal v. Blackwood, No. CIV. 619/1998 44 V.I. 144; 2001 V.I. LEXIS 42; 147 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P59, 669 (V.I. Terr. Ct. Dec. 13, 2001) the Virgin Islands Territorial (now Superior) Court examined the Virgin Islands Unemployment Insurance Act (UIA) and the Virgin Islands Wrongful Discharge Act (WDA).  It specifically found that as to the identity of issues, “the analysis involved in a wrongful discharge action encompasses a separate set of policies and rights than a determination of unemployment benefits,” such that the issues could not be deemed identical.  Id.  The public policy considerations underlying a state’s unemployment compensation law are not sufficiently similar to an action for civil defamation and wrongful discharge to deny litigation in a civil proceeding.  Id.  According to the Harrilal court, the purpose of the V.I. Labor Relations statutes, including 24 V.I.C. § 76, “‘is to encourage the friendly adjustment of employer-employee disputes through the practice and procedure of collective bargaining, and to protect the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing.'” (quoting V.I.C. § 61).  In comparison, “the purpose of the UIA is to establish a general employment fund” for those who become unemployed, “‘by enabling them to meet their essential expenses for [a] reasonable period until they are able to obtain suitable work.'”  Id. (quoting 24 V.I.C. § 301).  The mission of Virgin Islands Employment Security Agency (VIESA) “is to determine an applicant’s eligibility for unemployment benefits, not to determine the culpability of the […]

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