A Parks Hotel and Resorts employee was recently awarded a verdict of $21.5 million because the company, formerly known as Hilton Worldwide, failed to honor Maria Jean Pierre’s civil and constitutionally protected right to practice her religion.
Pierre was hired as a dishwasher at the Conrad Hotel in Miami, Florida in 2006 and made it clear to her employer that she needed Sundays off because she was a Catholic missionary; she simply requested that she never be scheduled to work on a Sunday. That was fine with her then supervisor, and that situation remained problem free until 2009, when her scheduled started to include shifts on Sundays.
When Pierre explained that she would have to quit due to being scheduled to work on Sundays, her request for one day a week off again was granted, and she continued to work for the company without issue—up until 2015. Nine years after her initial request to be scheduled off on Sundays for religious reasons, she was scheduled again to work on Sundays in 2015. At that time, she wrote a letter to her supervisor explaining, again, her need for Sundays off, but the manager threw the letter away and never addressed the issue with the long-time employee. Pierre was later fired for “alleged misconduct, negligence, and unexcused absences.”
She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and eventually filed a federal lawsuit for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Federal Law Caps Damages in Civil Suits
Even though Pierre won her lawsuit and was awarded $36,000 in lost wages and benefits, $500,000 for emotional distress, and $21 million in punitive damages, federal law caps damages on awards against employers. The monetary caps are based on the number of employers the company has and are as follows:
- 15-100 employees: Damages cap of $50,000
- 101-200 employees: Damages cap of $100,00
- 201-500 employees: Damages cap of $200,00
- Over 500 employees: Damages cap of $300,000
Because the company has well over 500 employers, the $21 million amount Pierre was awarded was reduced to $300,000, the maximum allowed by federal law. After attorneys’ fees, Pierre will receive approximately $500,000 of the $21.5 award, and although her attorneys feel the jury wanted her to be able to keep the entire award, they will not challenge the award. Park Hotels and Resorts, however, plans to appeal.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal law protects employees from discrimination based on religion (also race, color, sex, or national origin). Employees are required to accommodate reasonable requests to for employees’ religious observances. Examples of accommodations would be scheduling changes, exceptions to a dress code, or allowing prayer in the workspace. Accommodations that are too difficult, however, or burdensome for an employer may not be required; changes that would infringe on other employees’ rights may not be considered “reasonable” and would then not be required to be made by the employer.
If you feel you have been discriminated against at work and need legal advice, a workplace discrimination attorney will hear the details of your case and decide whether or not you have a valid legal claim.