Hotel dishwasher awarded $21 million after boss made her work on Sundays

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.
But Pierre, a 60-year-old mother of six children in Miami, isn’t likely to end up getting all that money. Instead, it’ll be more in the range of $500,000, because punitive damages are capped in federal court, her lawyer said.
"The jury was not aware of the cap,” said Pierre’s Miami-based lawyer, Marc Brumer. “They thought that they punished Hilton hotel with $21 million [in damages]."
She’d get up to $300,000 in punitive damages — that’s the limit in federal court — in addition to $500,000 awarded for emotional distress and $35,000 in back wages, Brumer said. From all that, Pierre could get about $500,000 after legal fees are factored in, Brumer estimated.
Pierre is a member of the Soldiers of Christ Church, a Catholic missionary group that helps the poor, and said she needed Sundays off from work.
“You can’t discriminate when someone has a religious belief,” Brumer said, 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 [her personnel] 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.”
Pierre said she notified her employer at the start of her job in 2006 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 to have Sundays off 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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