A New York appeals court ruled that the owner of a Mexican restaurant who told his staff that gay people were bound for eternal damnation is to pay a lesbian chef $1.6 million in damages.
Courthouse News Service reports that Edward Globokar, principal owner of Mary Ann’s chain Mexican restaurants, called staff together for mandatory prayer meetings in which he called homosexuality a sin and said “gay people” were “going to go to hell,” according to plaintiff Mirella Salemi.
Salemi sued Globokar, Gloria's Tribeca Inc., and Gloria's Tribecamex for violating New York City Human Rights Law between 2004 and 2007, when she worked at Mary Ann’s as a chef.
In addition to making offensive comments at the two-hour prayer meetings, which employees had to attend at risk of being fired, Globokar also told Salemi to dress more “effeminately” and advised her to marry a man and have children, according to her lawyer, Derek Smith.
“He not only threatened her soul, but he also threatened her livelihood,” Smith told the New York Post. “He thought praying might cure her of her sexuality, but she is someone who didn’t need to be saved.”
New York Supreme Court Jude Carol Huff awarded Salemi $400,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages.
The justices wrote in their ruling the damages awarded were not excessive, roundly rejecting Globokar’s argument that he was exercising his First Amendment right of freedom of religion.
“The trial court properly protected Globokar's First Amendment rights by instructing the jury that he had 'a right to express his religious beliefs and practice religion, providing that he does not discriminate against his employees based on religion or sexual orientation," the justices wrote.
Smith said the verdict was "the largest employment verdict in 2012 in New York.”
It is not clear who owns the Mary Ann’s chain now.