A devout woman’s prayers were answered this month when a federal jury awarded her a huge payday. However, she definitely won’t get the life-changing sum.
The jury awarded Marie Jean Pierre, a former dishwasher for the Conrad Miami Hotel, $21.5 million after her bosses pressured her to work on Sunday.
Pierre, 60, worked at the hotel for a decade, and her HR documents clearly stated she could take Sunday off to honor her religious beliefs. Along with her weekly church attendance, Pierre’s lawyers say she is a member of a Catholic missionary group called the Soldiers of Christ Church.
"I love God," Pierre told NBC Miami. "No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God."
But in 2015, Pierre’s kitchen manager assigned her multiple Sunday shifts, according to her lawyers. They say Pierre had already made her beliefs clear in 2009, when the hotel first tried to schedule her for a Sunday shift.
The Conrad fired Pierre in 2016 after she missed six shifts to attend her Baptist church. She fired back by suing the hotel’s parent company, Park Hotels & Resorts, in U.S. District Court, after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
A jury ordered Conrad Miami to pay Pierre $36,000 in lost wages, $500,000 for emotional anguish, and $21 million in punitive damages.
The trouble is, federal juries can only award punitive damages up to $300,000. The jury was not aware of this fact, and Pierre’s lawyers had asked for a $50 million settlement at trial specifically to send a message about religious discrimination.
One of Pierre’s lawyers, Marc L. Brumer, said that Pierre’s religious beliefs are protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
"The law says if you have a religious belief, the employer has to make reasonable accommodations for you," he told CBS News.
"They accommodated her for many years at the Hilton Worldwide. She did the dishes and there were many of them and she could easily be accommodated."
Brumer added that Pierre’s case was a victory not just for her, but for workers nationwide.
"We sent a message not just to Hilton Hotels but to every other hotel in America, that you can't just take the blood and sweat of your workers," he said. "You have to accommodate."
Hilton announced they plan to appeal the verdict, along with the damages they’re ordered to pay her.
"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 spokesperson said.
They added that "multiple concessions" were made to accommodate Pierre and her religious beliefs.