MIAMI – A jury has awarded a Miami hotel dishwasher $21.5 million, concluding that her employer failed to honor her religious beliefs by repeatedly scheduling her on Sundays and ultimately firing her.
Marie Jean Pierre, a dishwasher at the Conrad Miami, sued Virginia-based Park Hotels & Resorts, formerly known as Hilton Worldwide, for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in 2017. The jury found for Pierre and the award was filed on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Miami.
Pierre, a 60-year-old mother of six children, is a member of the Soldiers of Christ Church, a Catholic missionary group that helps the poor.
“You can’t discriminate when someone has a religious belief,” said Pierre’s Miami-based lawyer, Marc Brumer, citing the federal law. “You have to accommodate them.”
Brumer said Hilton argued in court that it never knew Pierre was a missionary, or why she always wanted Sundays off. “There were letters in file and her pastor went down there,” Brumer said.
Hilton issued a statement about the verdict.
“We are very disappointed by the jury’s verdict, and don’t believe that it is supported by the facts of this case or the law,” a spokeswoman said. “We intend to appeal, and demonstrate that the Conrad Miami was and remains a welcoming place for all guests and employees.”
Brumer said while there’s a $300,000 cap on punitive damage awards in federal court, he expects Pierre to receive between $300,000 to $500,000.
The jury also awarded $35,000 in back wages and $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish.
Pierre said she notified her employer from the beginning that she couldn’t work on Sundays due to her religious beliefs, according to the lawsuit. But in 2009, the hotel began scheduling her on Sundays. Pierre told her employer she would have to leave her job. The hotel then accommodated her request until 2015.
But then late that year, Pierre’s schedule was changed again to include Sundays, and she sought a letter from her pastor.
In 2016, Jean Pierre was fired for alleged misconduct, negligence and “unexcused absences,” according to the lawsuit.
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