A former hotel dishwasher has been awarded $21.5 million in damages by a jury after her employer repeatedly scheduled her to work on Sundays and ultimately fired her.
Marie Jean Pierre, a 60-year-old mother-of-three washed dishes at the Conrad Miami Hotel for about ten years before she was fired in March 2016.
Pierre, a devout Christian, said she told her employer in 2006 when she took up the job that she could not work on Sundays because she had to go to church.
"I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God," she said in an interview with NBC 6 Miami.
Pierre’s religious beliefs were respected until 2009 when the company started scheduling her on Sundays. According to the lawsuit, Pierre approached her employer and said she would have to leave the job.
Again, her request to have Sundays off was granted, until late 2015. Pierre was then sacked in 2016 after she missed six Sundays at work to attend Bethel Baptist Church in Miami.
In 2017, Pierre sued Virginia-based Park Hotels & Resorts, formerly known as Hilton Worldwide, for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Sun Sentinel reports. The Civil Rights Act in question protects workers from discrimination by race, religion, sex or national origin.
Finally, a federal court jury ruled in favor of Pierre and, this past Tuesday, awarded her $21 million in damages, excluding $35,000 in lost wages and $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish.
Pierre’s attorney, Marc Brumer said:
"They accommodated her for seven years, and they easily could have accommodated her, but instead of doing that, they set her up for absenteeism and threw her out. She's a soldier of Christ. She was doing this for all the other workers who are being discriminated against."
The legal professional added that he hopes the verdict will send a message to other corporations on how they treat their employees:
“This was not about money. This was about sending a message to other corporations whether big or small. 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."
Although Pierre has been awarded $21 million in damages, she can only get $300,000 as there is a cap on punitive damages in federal court.
Also combining her monetary awards for emotional distress and back wages, Pierre should have about $500,000 to herself once legal fees are subtracted.
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