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Hilton, Marriott, and Wyndham Face Sex Trafficking Lawsuits

sex trafficking, hilton, marriott, wyndham

Major hotel chains are facing accusations of allowing sex trafficking at their hotels, with former prostitutes filing lawsuits against the chains for alleged negligence. The Wall Street Journal reports major hoteliers like Hilton, Marriott, and Wyndham are facing lawsuits in multiple states over their supposed role in allowing the illicit acts to continue on their franchisees’ properties.

Hotels’ lawsuits span 11 states and multiple plaintiffs

The allegations of human trafficking through hotels date back to December 2019, when the Associated Press reported attorneys representing the victims asked to consolidate 21 lawsuits crossing 11 states in a Columbus, Ohio federal court. Collectively, the litigation alleges hotel management, franchise owners and the hotel chain corporate employees knew hotel rooms were used for prostitution and sex trafficking but did nothing to combat it.

“Human traffickers have capitalized on the hospitality industry’s refusal to adopt and implement industry-wide standards and anti-trafficking policies and procedures,” reads one of the court filings quoted by the AP. “Including, but not limited to, training hotel staff on how to identify obvious and well-known signs of sex trafficking.”

In Naples, Florida, a victim who spoke under anonymity to The Wall Street Journal claimed the rooms showed obvious signs of prostitution and sex trafficking, including piles of use condoms and blood. They further allege that red flags included men paying for rooms using cash instead of a credit card for weeks on end, checking in with unrelated minors and refusing housekeeping across multiple days.

Hotels respond to lawsuit allegations

Although the allegations against the hotels are shocking, attorneys defending the corporations say they have strict human trafficking guidelines in place and cannot be expected to know all the operations of their franchisees. Each company has come forward to condemn the practice, with statements to match their commitment to ending crimes on their branded properties.

A 2018 document released by Hilton reads: “Team Members are empowered to identify signs of human trafficking through training…We also encourage Hilton Employees to raise concerns about potential violations of our code of conduct, including risks of human trafficking or modern slavery, via the Hilton Hotline, an anonymous reporting mechanism for our corporate offices, leased and managed properties.” The statement continues that owners are screened through a “thorough due diligence review,” and the company works with owners to “increase…awareness of modern slavery risks.” One year prior, Hilton implemented mandatory anti-trafficking training as part of their “Brand Training.”

Marriott said in a 2019 press release their “mandatory human trafficking awareness training program” for both managed and franchised properties began in 2017, and “hundreds of thousands of associates have stepped forward to understand and stop the exploitation.” Among the signs of human trafficking the company says they share with hotel staff include “multiple men seen being escorted one at a time to a guest room,” or “guests who insist on little or no housekeeping.”

Shortly after the lawsuits became public, Wyndham pledged to donate 10 million Wyndham Rewards points to the Polaris Project, a non-profit dedicated to combating human trafficking. In their statement, the hotel urged guests who saw signs of trafficking to alert hotel management or security, call local emergency services, or contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” to 233733 in the U.S.

All of the lawsuits – a number now over 40 according to The Wall Street Journal – are currently pending in several federal court cases. No decisions have been rendered and the allegations have not been proven against either the owners or the hotel corporations. According to the AP, a decision to consolidate all the lawsuits is expected soon.

mvoight March 8, 2020

Refusing housekeeping for multiple days? Seriously? I have done that.

polinka March 6, 2020

Hmmm. This is tricky. There's no doubt that it occurs on numerous properties with the staff's knowledge. However, I abhor legislation by trial lawyers. Individual properties should be charged in local jurisdiction where it can be proved. I know, that doesn't scare the corporations into compliance. But compliance at what cost to personal freedom and privacy? It makes my blood boil every time trail lawyers think of new cash cow. The true victims will get pennies.

strickerj March 6, 2020

I feel for the victims here, but it seems like a dangerous precedent to hold business owners liable for their customers' conduct while on the property. The staff are already trained to look for red flags but they can't catch them all.

arcticflier March 6, 2020

What? Did the Prostitutes identify themselves, their chosen line of employment and their intentions to break the Law (and hotel policy) when they checked in?