A former dishwasher at a Miami hotel, fired after missing work on Sundays for religious reasons, was awarded a $21 million jury verdict.
Sixty-year-old Marie Jean Pierre was a dishwasher at the Conrad Miami Hotel for more than a decade until she was fired in March 2016.
Pierre, a devout Christian missionary born in Haiti, said she was fired by her boss at the hotel after she missed six Sundays from work to attend Bethel Baptist Church in Miami.
Pierre argued that she had informed her employer when she was hired that she could not work Sundays because of her religious beliefs and should not have been scheduled to work on the Sundays she missed.
"I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God," Pierre said Wednesday in an interview with NBC 6 Miami.
Her lawsuit argued that her former employer, which was managed by Hilton at the time, had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects workers from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin.
A jury in federal court ruled in her favor on Monday, granting her $21 million in damages, plus $35,000 in back wages and $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish.
"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," her attorney Marc Brumer said. "She's a soldier of Christ. She was doing this for all the other workers who are being discriminated against."
The company said it was disappointed by the jury's decision and that it 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.
Federal law requires an employer to make reasonable considerations for religious practices. Brumer said he hopes the verdict sets a standard.
"This was not about money. This was about sending a message to other corporations whether big or small," he said. "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."
There is a cap on punitive damage awards 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.
"I asked for $50 million, knowing that I was capped at $300,000," Brumer told NBC News on Wednesday. "I didn't do this for money. I did this to right the wrongs."