For almost 10 years, Marie Jean Pierre worked as a dishwasher at the Conrad Miami Hotel in Florida.
When she was hired in 2006, the Christian missionary told her employers that she could not work on Sundays because she had to serve in church.
“I love God,” Pierre, 60, told NBC Miami on Wednesday. “No work on Sunday, because Sunday I
For the first seven years, her employers allowed her to take out Sundays from her schedule, but that changed in 2015 after one of her kitchen managers demanded that she worked on Sunday.
Initially, she began switching shifts with co-workers but the kitchen manager, who has been identified as George Colon, later insisted that she worked Sunday shift herself, reports Miami Herald.
When Pierre objected to this, she was sacked in March 2016 for “alleged misconduct, negligence, and ‘unexcused absences.’” After losing her job, Pierre contacted a lawyer who informed her that her firing was a violation of her civil rights and religious beliefs.
She subsequently filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the hotel of “creating a hostile work environment”.
In 2017, the Haitian immigrant eventually filed a lawsuit for violation of her civil rights, citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans employment discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin.
Pierre won the case at the Florida federal court after the jury granted her $21 million in damages, plus $35 000 in back wages and $500 000 for emotional pain and mental anguish.
According to her attorney, Marc Brumer, her client’s dismissal was unfair.
“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,” he told NBC 6 Miami.
He further indicated that the lawsuit 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. Not a preference but a belief.”
The management of the hotel, however, disagrees.
“We were 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 statement from Hilton-owned hotel reads.
“During Ms Pierre’s 10 years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments. We intend to appeal, and demonstrate that the Conrad Miami was and remains a welcoming place for all guests and employees.”
Media reports state that there is a cap placed on punitive damages won in federal court, so Pierre can’t receive the entire $21 million.
But her attorney said he expects she will receive at least $500,000.