No. 24739 - Randall Conrad, et al. v. Charles Town Races, Inc.
Risovich, Judge, dissenting:
I respectfully dissent from the majority's conclusion that back pay paid pursuant to
the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2101 -
2109 (1994), does not qualify as wages under the West Virginia Wage Payment and
Collection Act (WPCA), West Virginia Code § 21-5-1 to -18 (1996 & Supp. 1999). Based
on this determination that the provisions of the WPCA do not apply under the facts of this
case, the Appellants were prevented from receiving liquidated damages for their former
employer's failure to timely pay them for eight days worth of wages that would have been
earned had Charles Town Races not prematurely closed its facility before the expiration of
the sixty-day period of notice required by federal law.See footnote 1
See W. Va. Code § 21-5-4(e)
(providing for payment of liquidated damages when employer fails to comply with provisions
Under the definitions set forth in the WPCA, the term wages is defined to include then accrued fringe benefits capable of calculation and payable directly to an employee. W. Va. Code § 21-5-1(c)(1996). The term fringe benefits is further defined by the WPCA as any benefit . . . which is required by law. W. Va. Code § 21-5-1(l). The majority completely overlooks the alternate definitional components of the term wages, preferring instead to focus solely on wages as being limited to compensation for labor or services rendered. W. Va. Code § 21-5-1(c). In defining the term wages, however, the Legislature clearly delineated that with reference to the WPCA statutory provision that permits liquidated damages (W. Va. Code § 21-5-4), inter alia,See footnote 2 2 the term wages also includes then accrued fringe benefits. W. Va. Code § 21-5-1(c). Since back pay awards are required by law pursuant to WARN, they constitute fringe benefits within the purview of the WPCA. See W. Va. Code § 21-5-1 (l). As such, the fringe benefit of WARN back pay falls within the definitional ambit of wages under the WPCA, which in turn invokes the liquidated damages provisions of the WPCA. See W. Va. Code § 21-5-4(e).
Moreover, as this Court recognized in Clendenin Lumber & Supply Co. v. Carpenter, 172 W. Va. 375, 305 S.E.2d 332 (1983), our 'Wage Payment and Collection Act is remedial legislation designed to protect working people and assist them in the collection of compensation wrongly withheld.' Id. at 380, 305 S.E.2d at 337 (quoting Mullins v. Venable, 171 W. Va. 92, 94, 297 S.E.2d 866, 869 (1982)); accord Jones v. Tri-County Growers, Inc., 179 W. Va. 218, 366 S.E.2d 726 (1988). Statutes, such as the WPCA, that are designed for remedial purposes are generally construed liberally to benefit the intended recipients. See e.g., Skaggs v. Elk Run Coal Co., 198 W. Va. 51, 64, 479 S.E.2d 561, 574 (1996) (recognizing that W.Va. Human Rights Act, based on its remedial nature, should be liberally construed to achieve its beneficent purposes); Syl. Pt. 6, Davis v. Hix, 140 W. Va. 398, 84 S.E.2d 404 (1954) (holding that [u]nemployment compensation statutes, being remedial in nature, should be liberally construed to achieve the benign purposes intended to the full extent thereof); City of Wheeling ex rel. Carter v. American Cas. Co., 131 W. Va. 584, 590, 48 S.E.2d 404, 408 (1948) (stating that remedial laws should be liberally construed); see also Farley v. Zapata Coal Corp., 167 W. Va. 630, 639, 281 S.E.2d 238, 244 (1981) (observing that [w]orking people should not have to resort to lawsuits to collect wages they have earned).
Given this undeniable and previously-articulated preference for liberal construction of the WPCA combined with the lucidly-stated definition of wages, I disagree with the majority's determination that back pay received under WARN does not qualify as wages under the WPCA. See W. Va. Code § 21-5-1(c). Accordingly, I believe the Appellants were wrongly denied liquidated damages to which they were clearly entitled.