A jury in a federal court has awarded $21m to a former dishwasher at a Miami hotel who was fired for missing work on Sundays for religious reasons.
According to NBC 6 Miami, Marie Jean Pierre, 60 filed the suit against Conrad Miami Hotel where she worked for 10 years until she was fired in March 2016
Her lawsuit said she was fired for alleged misconduct, negligence and “unexcused absences,” NBC News reports.
Her suit added that in 2009, the hotel scheduled her to work on a Sunday but she told her employer she’d have to resign.
The hotel then accommodated her request until 2015 when a new kitchen manager “demanded” she worked on Sundays, her lawsuit claims. The hotel allowed her to swap shifts with other workers for sometime to have the day off, but in March the following year, she was fired.
Pierre, a Christian missionary born in Haiti who attends the Bethel Baptist Church in Miami was fired after missing work for six Sundays.
Her argument was that she had informed her employer when she was hired that she couldn’t work on Sundays.
“I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honour God,” Pierre said.
Her lawsuit argued that her former employer violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin.
The jury granted her $21 million in damages, plus $35,000 in back wages and $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish.
“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,” her lawyer Marc Brumer said.
“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,” Brumer added.
Pierre can’t receive the entire $21m due to the cap on punitive damage awards in federal court, but Brumer said he expects she will receive at least $500,000.
“I asked for $50 million, knowing that I was capped at $300,000. I didn’t do this for money. I did this to right the wrongs,” he added.
The hotel intends to appeal the judgment, and says it was disappointed by the jury’s decision.
“During Ms. Pierre’s ten years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments,” the company said in a statement.
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