For 10 years, an elderly lady worked as a dishwasher at a luxury hotel, never once complaining about her arduous work. However, once a jury saw what her employer forced the trusting old woman to do every week, they immediately awarded her a massive settlement of over $21 million.
For over a decade, 60-year-old Marie Jean Pierre worked diligently as a dishwasher at the Conrad Miami Hotel, which was later bought by Hilton, never skipping out on a day of work. For the quiet elderly woman, serving in her humble position with nary a complaint was simply part of her Christian values.
America recognizes more individual freedoms than any other country in the history of the world. As long as these rights don’t infringe upon another’s rights, these freedoms are to be recognized and respected, lest the abuser face prosecution. Unfortunately, Pierre’s employer had to learn this lesson the hard way.
As a devout Christian missionary, the Haitian-born woman had strong convictions about keeping her religious commandments, especially attending church every Sunday. Although her job didn’t allow her to take off each weekend for the early service, Pierre would routinely trade shifts with her co-workers, making sure to cover her Sunday morning work while also keeping her faith. Sadly, this came to an end when the hotel hired a new manager.
Although Pierre had no problems covering her Sunday shifts for 7 years, her new boss quickly took issue with the Christian woman getting off work each week. The faithful, long-time dishwasher was soon fired for refusing to work on Sundays. Unfortunately for her ex-employer, the reserved little lady wasn’t going to take it lying down.
After filing a lawsuit against the Hilton hotel for religious discrimination, the jury awarded Pierre $21 million in damages as well as $35,000 in back wages and $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish for being forced to work Sundays, according to NBC Miami. The massive settlement was awarded to the 60-year-old worker after it was discovered that she had been fired despite adequately covering her Sunday shifts in order to abide by her 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 said. “She’s a soldier of Christ. She was doing this for all the other workers who are being discriminated against.”
For 7 years, Pierre never requested any special privilege and even took on the task of finding someone to cover her shift each Sunday. However, her new employer didn’t believe that she had the right to not work on Sundays, even though she had made it known that it was part of her religious beliefs.
Although Pierre was granted an unfathomable sum, she won’t be spending her millions anytime soon. As Brumer explained, the federal court has a cap on punitive damages, which is set at $300,000. However, he expected that Pierre will at least receive $500,000 of her rightful settlement.
“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.”
Still, Pierre doesn’t plan on heading to the Bahamas for a luxury vacation or buying a mansion in some upscale suburb. In fact, she beamed while explaining that she will donate whatever she receives to orphans in Haiti, who hold a special place in her heart.
“It’s not a lottery. The earth and the skies belong to God,” Pierre said through a translator. “I love God. No work on Sunday, because Sunday I honor God.”
Despite the ruling, Hilton denied discriminating against Pierre in any way. In fact, the company claims that there were many privileges given to the dishwasher in accordance with her personal convictions, according to The Washington Post. The company maintains that it managed its employees within the federal law requirements for employers to make reasonable considerations for employees’ religious practices.
“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,” Hilton said in a statement to the news station. “During Ms. Pierre’s 10 years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments.”
Whether the $21.5-million award is an appropriate amount for such an incident, Pierre’s case outlines the relationship between corporate management and employee rights. However much she receives from her settlement, we hope that she makes good on her promise to use it to help those less fortunate.