(CN) - The owner of a Mexican restaurant in Tribeca who warned his staff weekly about the eternal damnation awaiting "gay people" owes a lesbian chef $1.6 million, a New York appeals court ruled.
Mirella Salemi had sued Gloria's Tribeca Inc., Gloria's Tribecamex and principal owner Edward Globokar for violations of the New York City Human Rights Law.
The defendants operate a chain of Mexican restaurants in New York called Mary Ann's. The conduct at issue occurred between 2004 and 2007. It is unclear who owns Mary Ann's today.
Salemi complained that Globokar held weekly prayer meetings that were essentially mandatory because the restaurant staff feared they would lose their jobs if they did not attend.
At these meetings, Globokar would repeatedly call homosexuality a sin, and say that "gay people" were "going to go to hell."
Judge Carol Huff with the New York County Supreme Court awarded Salemi $400,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages.
Salemi's lawyer Derek Smith called it "the largest employment verdict in 2012 in New York." He noted that the prayer services took place behind locked doors and lasted two hours. Globokar also told the lesbian Salemi to dress more "effeminately," and to marry a man and have children, Smith said.
A three-judge panel of the Appellate Division's Manhattan-based First Department affirmed the verdict for Salemi last week.
"Additional evidence demonstrated that as a result of Globokar's improper conduct, plaintiff was retaliated against for objecting to his offensive comments, choosing not to attend workplace prayer meetings and refusing to fire another employee because of his sexual orientation," the unsigned decision states.
Globokar argued that he was exercising his First Amendment rights, including his freedom of religion, but the appeals court rejected that notion.
"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, adding that the damages award was not excessive.
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