Jury Awards $21.5 Million To Dishwasher Who Was Fired For Requesting A Religious Accommodation
On January 14, 2019, a Florida federal court jury found a Hilton affiliated hotel liable for retaliation after it terminated the plaintiff dishwasher for seeking a religious accommodation, and awarded her $21,000,000 in punitive damages, $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish, and $36,000 in lost wages and benefits.
In Marie L. Jean Pierre v. Park Hotels & Resort, Inc., the plaintiff (“Pierre”) was hired by the Miami hotel in 2006 to work as a housekeeper. From 2006 to 2008 Pierre worked two Sundays a month. In 2008, Pierre, a devout Catholic, resigned and informed the hotel that she could not work Sundays because of her religious beliefs. In response, the hotel offered Pierre a position as a dishwasher for which she would be permitted to take Sundays off, which Pierre accepted.
In 2014 Pierre’s manager demanded that she work Sundays. In response Pierre wrote two letters to the hotel’s HR department stating that she could work Monday through Saturday, but could not work on Sundays because of her religious beliefs. Despite these letters, the manager continued to schedule Pierre for work on Sundays. The hotel fired Pierre in 2016 after she failed to work on Sundays for which she was scheduled.
The hotel’s primary defenses were that it needed Pierre to work on Sundays in 2015 and 2016 because it was short-staffed, and that it offered Pierre a reasonable accommodation of working before or after she attended church on Sunday.
After a five day trial, the jury found that Pierre’s failure to accommodate claim was without merit, but found that the hotel’s termination of Pierre was in retaliation of her lawful requests for a religious accommodation.