A jury has awarded $21.5 million* in damages and front and back pay after finding the plaintiff, a former dishwasher and housekeeper for the Conrad Hotel in Miami, suffered religious discrimination.

eeoc-releases-performance-reportMarie Jean Pierre, a devout member of the Soldiers of Christ Church, told her employer when she started that her religious beliefs required that she not work on Sundays. For a few years, this request was honored. In 2009, however, she resigned when she was informed she would have to work Sundays. The hotel relented and put her back on a Sunday-free schedule, but in 2015 her supervisor put her back on a Sunday schedule and demanded she obtain a letter of explanation from her pastor.

For a while, her coworkers traded shifts with Jean Pierre so she could honor her religion, but the next year she was fired for “alleged misconduct, negligence, and ‘unexcused absences’.”

She sued under the protection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In its guidance on Title VII, which prohibits discrimination based on  race, color, religion, sex and national origin, the commission encourages employers to “work with employees who need an adjustment to their work schedule to accommodate their religious practices,” and to even “consider adopting flexible leave and scheduling policies.”

*The jury awarded $36,000 for lost wages and benefits, $500,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish, and $21 million for punitive damages. However, due to a cap on punitive damages, that amount will probably be lowered to $300,000, for a total of $836,000 — still not bad for a former hotel housekeeper.