The owner of a Mexican restaurant in New York City, who held prayer meetings in which he said gay people were “going to hell,” must pay a jury award of $1.6 million in damages to a lesbian chef who had filed a sexual orientation discrimination law suit against him, says a New York appeals court, in upholding a jury award.
A New York Supreme Court jury had awarded chef Mirella Salemi a $1.6 million award, including $400,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress and $1.2 million in punitive damages, in December, 2012, according to the ruling by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York. The appeals court's ruling in Mirella Salemi v. Gloria's Tribeca Inc. was issued March 20 but only publicized last week.
Evidence “amply supports” the jury's verdict that, in violation of the New York City Human Rights law, Gloria's Tribeca's owner, Edward Globokar, discriminated against Ms. Salemi by, among other things, holding weekly prayer meetings during which it was repeatedly stated that homosexuality is a sin and that gay people “were going to hell “and “generally subjecting her to an incessant barrage of offensive anti-homosexual invective.”
The unanimous 5-0 ruling said also that Ms. Salemi was retaliated against for objecting to Mr. Globokar's improper conduct, for choosing not to attend the workplace prayer meetings, and for refusing to fire another employee because of his sexual orientation, and that she was improperly discharged.
The appeals court said the trial court had protected Mr. Globokar's First Amendment rights by instructing the jury that he had a right to express his religious beliefs and practices, provided he did not discriminate against his employees based on religion or sexual orientation.
The appeals court said the compensatory damages award does not “materially deviate” from awards in similar case and that the punitive damages awards was not “grossly excessive” given “the extensive evidence of defendant's discriminatory conduct.”