A federal jury in Florida awarded a Christian woman $21.5 million in punitive damages this week, declaring that her employer, the Conrad Hotel, unjustly fired her when she refused to work on Sundays because of her Christian faith.
"Marie Jean Pierre worked as a dishwasher at the Conrad from 2006 to 2016," reports the Miami Herald. "The hotel knew about her involvement in the Soldiers of Christ Church that prevented her from working Sundays. But in 2015, her boss, kitchen manager George Colon, assigned her to work Sundays anyway."
Though Pierre managed the new schedule by trading shifts with her fellow co-workers for several weeks, her employer demanded that she show up regardless. Pierre refused to compromise her faith and he fired her. When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued Pierre a "right to sue" notice, she filed suit against the Conrad Hotel, managed by HEI Hotels & Resorts, alleging she had been unjustly fired for her religious beliefs.
"I love God," she told NBC 6 Miami, according to Yahoo News. "No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God."
Marc Brumer, Pierre's attorney, told NBC 6 that her lawsuit was for all employees being discriminated against because of their religion.
"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, told NBC 6. "She’s a soldier of Christ. She was doing this for all the other workers who are being discriminated against."
Pierre's complaint said that the "defendant retaliated against Plaintiff by, among other things, creating a hostile work environment for Plaintiff, reprimanding Plaintiff for her religious beliefs, and terminating Plaintiff."
Pierre has now been awarded $36,000 for lost wages, $500,000 for emotional wages, and $21 million in punitive damages.
"This was not about money," Bruner told NBC 6. "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. Not a preference but a belief."
The hotel chain, part of the Hilton brand, expressed disappointment with the verdict and plans to appeal, asserting that "multiple concessions" were made on her behalf.
"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," the chain said in a statement. "During Ms. Pierre’s 10 years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments. We intend to appeal, and demonstrate that the Conrad Miami was and remains a welcoming place for all guests and employees."
The ruling in Pierre's favor comes during the very same week that President Trump affirmed his support for religious freedom during an address on Religious Freedom Day.
"On Religious Freedom Day, we celebrate our Nation’s long-standing commitment to freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith," Trump said, according to Catholic News Agency. "The right to religious freedom is innate to the dignity of every human person and is foundational to the pursuit of truth."