In Miami, a hotel dishwasher has been awarded $21.5 million in a jury trial. Jurors found that her employer infringed upon her religious beliefs by continually scheduling her to work on Sundays and ultimately firing her.
Marie Jean Pierre, 60, was employed as a dishwasher at the Conrad Miami. She sued Virginia-based Park Hotels & Resorts, previously known as Hilton Worldwide, in 2017 for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The landmark law prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Pierre has six children and belongs to the Soldiers of Christ Church, a Catholic missionary group that offers assistance to the poor, according to her attorney.
The jury also awarded Pierre $35,000 in back pay and $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish. When she was hired, she told the hotel that she would be unable to work on Sundays due to her religious beliefs. "I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God," Pierre told NBC Miami.
Marc Brumer, Pierre’s attorney, said Park Hotels & Resorts contended that they were unaware that she was a missionary or that she wanted Sundays off. Pierre claimed that in 2009 the hotel scheduled her to work on a Sunday. She responded that she would have to quit, but the hotel decided to adjust her schedule to keep her on.
Then in 2015, the hotel’s kitchen manager "demanded" that she work on Sundays. Pierre made arrangements with other employees to trade shifts, so she could have the day off. Finally, on March 31, 2016, she said she was fired for purported misconduct, negligence and “unexcused absences,” according to the lawsuit. Pierre then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued her a “right to sue” notice, enabling her to sue the hotel and managing company.
Although the jury awarded Pierre $21.5 million, there is a cap on punitive damage awards in federal court, therefore, her attorney expects her to receive approximately $500,000. "I asked for $50 million, knowing that I was capped at $300,000," Brumer told NBC News. "I didn't do this for money. I did this to right the wrongs."
Park Hotels & Resorts said they were "very disappointed by the jury's verdict, and don't believe that it is supported by the facts of this case or the law."
"During Ms. Pierre's ten years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments," a spokesperson said. "We intend to appeal and demonstrate that the Conrad Miami was and remains a welcoming place for all guests and employees."