Marie Jean Pierre, a 60-year-old former dishwasher at the Conrad Miami hotel, was awarded an incredible $21.5 million this week after claiming she faced discrimination by being forced to work on Sundays.
Pierre worked at the hotel, which at the time was managed by Hilton, for more than a decade before being fired in 2016. The reason the company gave for letting Pierre go was that she kept missing Sunday shifts in order to go to church. Previously, the hotel had respected the dishwasher's commitments and given her an exemption from working on Sundays between 2009 and 2015, but went back on this agreement and began "demanding" that she work on any day they requested.
Rather than find a new job, the 60-year-old continued at Conrad, but didn't show up for shifts that coincided with church. And now she's been handed tens of millions of dollars for doing so.
"I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honour God," Pierre said in an interview with her lawyer, Marc Brumer, who was obviously very happy with the jury's decision to award his client compensation.
"They accommodated her for seven years and they easily could have accommodated her [again], but instead of doing that, they set her up for absenteeism and threw her out," Brumer said. "She’s a soldier of Christ. She was doing this for all the other workers who are being discriminated against."
Pierre was able to convince the jury that her commitment to her religion was genuine, and therefore her workplace had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin.
Indeed, the dishwasher has always lived as a committed Christian, and has done missionary work in the past.
$536,000 of the sum was awarded to Pierre as compensation for lost wages, emotional pain and "mental anguish", and the remaining $20 million was to account for punitive damages. Because of a state cap on payouts such as these, however, she is likely receive much less.
"I asked for $50 million, knowing that I was capped at $300,000," Brumer disclosed this week. "I didn’t do this for money. I did this to right the wrongs." He continued:
"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."
Meanwhile, the hotel company has said that it is disappointed by the decision and intends to appeal. "During Ms. Pierre’s ten years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments," Hilton said in a statement.
This legal battle is a huge deal - not just for Pierre, but for other individuals who feel they are being discriminated against for their race, religion, sex or national origin. The precedent has been set that employers cannot treat individuals unfairly on these grounds, and should expect to face consequences if they do.