In 2017, Marie Jean Pierre filed a lawsuit against Park Hotels & Resorts, her former employer, for failing to adhere to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She alleged that they violated her religious rights by scheduling her to work on Sundays repeatedly and ultimately firing her over the matter. A jury agreed and awarded her $21.5 million.
Pierre, a 60-year-old mother of six, was working at the Conrad Miami, a property owned by Park Hotels & Resorts (formerly known as Hilton Worldwide), as a dishwasher.
In the lawsuit, Pierre, a member of the Catholic mission group Soldiers of Christ Church, stated that she informed her employer that she was unable to work Sundays, due to her religious beliefs, when she began her position at the hotel.
“I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God,” said Pierre during an interview, according to a report by NBC News.
Pierre alleged that in 2009 the hotel scheduled her for a Sunday shift and that she informed her employer that she would have to resign if she was required to work that day. However, the hotel said they could accommodate her request, making it possible for her to keep her position.
Then, in 2015, the manager of the hotel’s kitchen “demanded” Pierre work on Sundays. For a short time, she was able to swap shifts with her coworkers. But, on March 31, 2016, Pierre said she was fired for misconduct, negligence, and “unexcused absences.”
Marc Brumer, Pierre’s lawyer, said the hotel tried to argue that they were unaware of Pierre’s status as a missionary, so they did not know that her request for Sundays off was based on her religious beliefs.
However, the jury sided with Pierre, awarding her $21.5 million in punitive damages along with $35,000 in back wages and an additional $500,000 for pain and suffering.
Pierre won’t receive the full $21.5 million as there is a cap on punitive damages in federal court. Her lawyer believes she will receive at least $500,000. The jury was not aware of the limitation when they made their decision.
Park Hotels & Resorts said it was “very disappointed by the jury’s verdict, and don’t believe that it is supported by the facts of this case or the law.”
“During Ms. Pierre’s ten years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments,” said a company spokeswoman. “We intend to appeal, and demonstrate that the Conrad Miami was and remains a welcoming place for all guests and employees.”