Devout Christian, who worked as dishwasher, wins R297m in legal battle after being fired for skipping Sunday work

2019-01-21 15:19


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An American woman, who worked as dishwasher at the Conrad Miami Hotel in Florida for more than a decade, has been awarded $21.5m (R297m) after winning a legal battle against her former employer.

The devout Christian was fired from her job for not showing up for work on Sundays.

Marie Jean Pierre said her employer was aware of her religious beliefs upon hiring her in 2006 and that they had been informed she would be unable to work on Sundays. But in 2016, according to NBC 6 Miami, her schedule changed.

Speaking to NBC 6 Miami, she said she didn’t work on Sundays as it was her day to honour God. "I love God, no work on Sunday, because Sunday I honour God."

The hotel respected her religious beliefs, she said, and allowed her to have Sundays off for many years. But that changed in October 2015 when a kitchen manager insisted on scheduling her to work on Sundays. Marie Jean then began switching shifts with her coworkers, reports the Miami Herald.

The arrangement lasted until March 2016 when she was fired for "alleged misconduct, negligence and unexcused absences".

After losing her job, Marie Jean contacted a lawyer who informed her that her firing was a violation of her civil rights and religious beliefs. She then filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing the hotel of "creating a hostile work environment".

Marie Jean ultimately filed a lawsuit in 2017 for violation of her civil rights, citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans employment discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin.

An unfair dismissal

A jury at the Florida federal court ruled in her favour, granting her $21m (R290m) in damages plus $35 000 (R483 000) in back pay and $500 000 (R7m) for emotional pain and mental anguish.

Her attorney, Marc Brumer, told NBC 6 Miami that her dismissal had been unfair. "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.

"She’s a Soldier of Christ. She was doing this for all the other workers who are being discriminated against," he added

Brumer told NBC 6 Miami the lawsuit was not about the money. "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.­­­­­­­"

But hotel management sees things differently. "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," a statement from the hotel chain reads.

"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."

Sources: NBC 6 Miami, Miami Herald

Read more on:    us  |  courts  |  religion

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