A Florida jury has awarded a former hotel dishwasher $28.5 million after her employer failed to honour her religious beliefs by repeatedly scheduling her to work on Sundays, a dispute that led to her eventual firing.
Marie Jean Pierre, 60, was born in Haiti and is a member of a Catholic missionary group. The lawsuit stated that Pierre told her managers when she was hired at the Conrad Miami hotel in 2006 that she needed Sundays off.
“I love God. No work on Sunday because Sunday I honour God,” Pierre told NBC Miami.
Pierre was fired in 2016 for missing work. She sued hotel operator Hilton in 2017 for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The mother of six was awarded $28.5 million, an additional $46,000 in back wages and $660,000 for emotional stress.
Her attorney says she will likely only receive about $660,000 after legal fees because punitive damages are capped in federal court.
“The jury was not aware of the cap,” Pierre’s Miami-based lawyer, Marc Brumer, told the Sun Sentinel. “They thought that they punished Hilton hotel with $28.5 million [in damages].”
Brumer also said that Park Hotels and Resorts, formerly Hilton Worldwide, claimed in court that the company was unaware of Pierre’s missionary status and planned to appeal.
“During Ms. Pierre’s 10 years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments,” a hotel spokeswoman said.
“We intend to appeal and demonstrate that the Conrad Miami was and remains a welcoming place for all guests and employees.”
Brumer hopes the verdict sets a precedent.
“This was not about money. This was about sending a message to other corporations, whether big or small,” he said.
“Whatever size you are, if you’re going to take the blood and sweat of your workers, you better accommodate them or let them at least believe in their religious beliefs.”
—With a file from the Associated Press
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