- A jury has awarded a former dishwasher and housekeeper at the Conrad Hotel in Miami $21.5 million in damages, front and back pay after finding she suffered religious discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Marie L. Jean Pierre v. Park Hotels & Resort Inc., 17-cv-21955 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 14, 2019)).
- As a longtime, devout member of the Soldiers of Christ Church, Marie Jean Pierre was unable to work on Sundays because it interfered with her religious worship. From the time her employment began, she continually informed her employer that she needed Sundays off. Initially, she was granted this accommodation, but in 2009, she was forced to resign when the hotel scheduled her to work on a Sunday, she alleged in her complaint. In response, the hotel again granted the accommodation to keep her from quitting, court documents said.
- In 2015, however, Jean Pierre's supervisor demanded that she work on Sundays, requiring her — and her pastor — to write letters explaining her religious needs. Jean Pierre's co-workers swapped shifts with her on Sundays, which stemmed the tide for several weeks, but her supervisor eventually insisted that she be available. In 2016, Jean Pierre said she was fired for "alleged misconduct, negligence, and 'unexcused absences."
Title VII "prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin," according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Employers must be aware of the law's nuances, including the affirmative requirement to accommodate employees with sincerely held religious beliefs.
In the EEOC's Title VII guidance, it reiterates that employers should educate managers on best practices related to the law and enforce consistent managerial practices. In its section on schedule changes, EEOC 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." Schedule swaps among similarly qualified employees should be embraced and encouraged by employers, too, according to the EEOC.
Employers can glean insights from this case beyond those related to discrimination, too. Giving employees more freedom and predictability with their schedules can sometimes increase productivity. Walmart, for example, launched an internal app to help employees swap shifts without managerial intervention — lightening the workload for both parties.