The owner of a small chain of Mexican restaurants learned an expensive lesson in tolerance when he was ordered by a New York appeals court to pay a lesbian chef $1.6 million for repeatedly saying at staff meetings that gay people were going to hell.

According to Courthouse News Service, Mirella Salemi sued Gloria’s Tribeca Inc., Gloria’s Tribecamex and the owners and operators of Mary Ann’s, a chain of Mexican restaurants in New York for violations of the New York City Human Rights Law.

In her complaint, Salemi said that Mary Ann’s principal owner Edward Globokar held weekly prayer meetings that were essentially mandatory since the staff feared they would be fired if they did not attend. At the prayer meetings, which took place behind locked doors and lasted hours, Globokar repeatedly called homosexuality a sin and said that "gay people" were "going to hell." He also told Salemi to dress more "effeminately," and to marry a man and have children.

In 2012, Judge Carol Huff with the New York State Supreme Court awarded Salemi $400,000 in compensatory damages and $1.2 million in punitive damages. A three-judge panel of the Appellate Division’s Manhattan-based First Department affirmed the verdict in March.

In his appeal, 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.

Marry Ann’s began in 1986 in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood on Eighth Avenue just around the same time the area was heating up to become Manhattan’s hottest "gayborhood." The eatery was one of the first pioneers on the then-seedy commercial avenue as it was one of the city’s first Tex-Mex restaurants. Marry Ann’s soon gained a huge following that included many gay men.

The restaurant, which once had as many as six locations is now a two-restaurant chain.

From our media partner EDGE