SONIA Johnny, a former Saint Lucia permanent representative to the Organisation of American States (OAS) and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States of America, has finally been awarded payment in lieu of vacation leave accumulated over successive contracts during the period 1997 – 2007.
It has been a long and hard road for Johnny in the country’s civil court in seeking what she claimed was rightfully hers.
Johnny, last month in an appeals court was awarded payment in lieu of vacation leave in the sum of $220,395.60 together with pre-judgment interest thereon at the rate of 6% per annum pursuant to article 1009A of the Civil Code of Saint Lucia.
Justices Davidson Kelvin Baptiste, Louise Esther Blenman and Vicki-Ann Ellis all concurred awarding Johnny as well prescribed costs in the sum of $30,049.45 in the court below and 2/3 of that amount on appeal.
The justices set aside the order of the lower court that had dismissed Johnny’s claim for payment in lieu of vacation leave and which had awarded the Attorney General.
Court documents revealed that Johnny’s first contract of employment entitled her to 33 working days’ vacation leave annually to be normally taken at the completion of the tour of duty. Her two subsequent contracts maintained her entitlement to 33 working days leave but required that the leave be taken during the tour of service.
According to the court on 9 January 2007, ten months before the expiration of her last contract, Johnny wrote to the Permanent Secretary, for permission to take a portion of her accumulated leave but was not favoured with a response. This was followed by several unanswered enquiries. By letter dated 30th June 2010, Johnny was advised that her application for payment in lieu of leave had been denied. No reason was furnished for the decision.
Johnny issued a claim for breach of contract against the Government of Saint Lucia claiming payment in lieu of 7 and a half months leave, interest and costs. She stated that at the end of each contract, her leave form included a statement that her leave was rolled over to the next contractual period and that the practice of rolling over accumulated leave from contract to contract implied a term into the contract that if she were unable to take her leave, it would not be forfeited; hence, she was entitled to be paid for it. She further stated that she was unable to take her stipulated leave due to the exigencies of the post.
The State, represented by the Attorney General, asserted in the defence, that there is no right to receive payment in lieu of leave and receipt of any payment in lieu thereof is at the sole discretion of the Crown. Any accumulation of leave outside the scope of a contract must be with the expressed approval of the relevant department head and in accordance with the established procedure. And that Johnny was obligated to take leave during the currency of the contract and her failure to so do rendered the leave liable to forfeiture.
The judge in the lower court dismissed the claim, holding that Johnny did not establish a right to accumulate leave based on the expressed terms of the contract and that there was no contractual right to payment in lieu of leave, either on the terms of the contract or by implication, based on the practice identified by her of rolling over leave, which, on the evidence had not been proven.
Johnny, being dissatisfied with the decision, appealed on several grounds including that the judge erred in the approach with respect to implying terms; the judge erred in not considering issues of good faith, reasonableness and abuse of contractual rights and the judge erred in not having a holistic appreciation of performance of the contract and the nature of the contract.