60-year-old dishwasher at Conrad Miami, Marie Jean Pierre, was awarded $21.5 million after her employers regularly forced her to work on Sundays.
As a devout Christian, Pierre had informed the authorities at Conrad Miami Hotel during her early days of employment that she could not work Sundays due to religious reasons.
Despite her pre-notice, she was regularly assigned multiple Sunday shifts in 2015 by a kitchen manager at the hotel.
Consequently, her absenteeism on those days led the hotel to fire her in March 2016. She had worked as a dishwasher at Conrad Miami for around 10 years prior to her firing.
Pierre, a Haitian immigrant, first tried to manage by trading shifts, but it didn’t work for long. Eventually, she missed six Sundays to attend Bethel Baptist Church.
“I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God," Pierre told NBC 6 Miami.
Marie Jean Pierre and her attorney Marc L. Brumer walking before press photographers. | Source: YouTube/NBC 6 South Florida
She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before suing Conrad Miami, which was owned by Hilton at the time, in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida in May 2017.
An attorney representing Pierre, Marc L. Brumer, cited the 1964 Civil Rights Act and claimed that she was discriminated based on religion.
Marie Jean Pierre and her attorney Marc L. Brumer sitting for an interview with NBC 6 Miami. | Source: YouTube/NBC 6 South Florida
"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."
Marc L. Brumer, NBC 6 Miami, January 16, 2019
Hilton expressed their disappointment at the jury’s decision in a statement. The representatives for the company stated that they made “multiple concessions” to accommodate Pierre’s personal and religious commitments.
Meanwhile, Attorney Brumer stated that he hopes the jury’s verdict sets a standard for employers all over the US.
He explained that the lawsuit was not about the money but rather 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,” he told NBC 6 Miami.
Brumer also stated that he asked for $50 million despite knowing that there is a cap on punitive damage and Pierre would only receive around $500,000. He stressed again the fact that he filed the lawsuit not for the money but to “right the wrongs.”
In a similar incident last year, a restaurant manager at Vancouver’s Stanley Park Teahouse had to pay a big price after he refused to serve a customer wearing a hat that supported the US President Donald Trump.
The manager allegedly demanded the customer to remove his “MAGA” hat or he would refuse them any service.