A jury awarded a Florida hotel dishwasher more than $21 million after determining that the woman’s employer discriminated against her religious beliefs by forcing her to work Sundays and firing her when she did not show up for religious reasons.
The jury also awarded Marie Jean Pierre, a 60-year-old who washed dishes for a living at the Conrad Miami for more than a decade, $35,000 in back pay and $500,000 for emotional pain and suffering when they handed down their decision on Tuesday.
But Pierre will likely not receive the full amount awarded by the court, because federal laws capping punitive damages at $300,000 will keep her from receiving close to that amount.
Pierre, a mother-of-six who volunteers for the Catholic missionary group the Soldiers of Christ Church, sued Park Hotels and Resorts— also known as Hilton Worldwide— in 2017 for violating her religious liberties under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The law, signed under President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, bans employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin.
The 60-year-old stated in her lawsuit that she told her employer when she started her job that she could not work on Sundays because it violated her religious beliefs.
“I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God,” Pierre told NBC Miami on Wednesday.
In 2009, when the hotel began scheduling her to work on Sundays, Pierre told her boss she would have to quit unless the hotel accommodated her religious beliefs.
The hotel took her beliefs into account until 2015, when they started scheduling her on Sundays again. Pierre asked for a letter from her pastor, but did not get dispensation.
In 2016, the hotel fired Pierre for alleged negligence, misconduct, and “unexcused absences,” according to the lawsuit.
“You can’t discriminate when someone has a religious belief,” said Pierre’s attorney, Marc Brumer. “You have to accommodate them.”
A spokesperson for Hilton says the hotel plans to appeal 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 spokeswoman said. “We intend to appeal, and demonstrate that the Conrad Miami was and remains a welcoming place for all guests and employees.”