Saenz & Anderson, PLLC Obtains $21.5M Verdict Against Hilton

By Ilona Demenina Anderson

As reported by  NBC News, USA Today, MSN.com, The Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel and other news outlets, Saenz & Anderson, PLLC’s founding partner Martin Saenz along with co-counsel Marc Brumer obtained a $21.5 million jury verdict on behalf of a Hilton employee in a religious discrimination case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday, January 14, 2019.

Our client, a 60-year-old Haitian mother of six children, worked as a dishwasher at the Hilton-owned Conrad Miami hotel. She is a member of the Soldiers of Christ and the Bethel Church, a Christian religious group that helps the poor. She requested accommodation for her religious beliefs and, from 2008 until 2014, Hilton did not schedule her to work on Sundays. This changed when a new supervisor came in and insisted that he needed our client to work on Sundays. Our client wrote various letters to HR, restating her religious beliefs and requesting accommodation, but her accommodation requests were denied. Ultimately, when our client refused to work on Sundays because this is the day in which she worships God, Hilton fired her.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discharging an individual because of his or her religion. Title VII defines “religion” to include religious beliefs and practices “unless an employer demonstrates” an inability “to reasonably accommodate” the employee’s “religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j). In other words, the unreasonable failure to accommodate a religious belief or practice constitutes prohibited discrimination, as does the termination of an employee because of her religious beliefs. In addition, terminating an employee for requesting an accommodation required by Title VII, or for opposing an employer’s failure to provide the accommodation, constitutes unlawful employment discrimination in violation of Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3.

During trial, Defendant argued that our client’s religious beliefs were not sincerely held, that she did not request an accommodation, and that, even if she did, multiple accommodations were provided to her, but she refused to accept these offers to accommodate. Lastly, Hilton argued that our client’s requested accommodation could not have been reasonably provided to her because of “undue hardship.” The jury awarded our client $36,000 in lost wages and $500,000 in compensatory mental damages. In addition, the jury awarded punitive damages against Hilton in the amount of $21 million dollars. Punitive damages are meant to punish a party and are not directly tied to a plaintiff’s compensable injuries.

The trial was attended by multiple members of our client’s church and the Miami Haitian community. Saenz & Anderson, PLLC and Brumer & Brumer, PA are proud of our client for bringing this case and enduring the stress of taking it to trial so that this would not happen to other employees with sincerely held religious beliefs.

If you have been the victim of employment discrimination, wrongful termination, unpaid wages or another employment-related dispute, please do not hesitate to call our office (305) 503-5131 or fill out our case evaluation form on the Contact page of our website.

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