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Judge advances sex trafficking claims against Motel 6

A woman suing G6 Hospitality claiming she was trafficked for sex at their hotel made enough of a showing that a hotel manager was complicit to survive a motion to dismiss.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge ruled that G6 Hospitality, the management company for the Studio 6 and Motel 6 hotel chains, must face claims that it was complicit in sex trafficking at a hotel location in California.

In a 2022 complaint, B.J. claims she was a victim of sex trafficking at five California hotels between 2012 and 2016. B.J. claims that she was beaten and sexually abused at these hotel chains, that it was “open and obvious,” and that staff knew about it but did not do anything to stop it.

A “daily parade” of buyers and unregistered guests were allowed to enter the hotels and abuse B.J., according to the complaint.

“For decades, defendants have allowed criminal traffickers to brazenly sell commercial sex in their branded hotels throughout this country. Criminals parade this misconduct openly on branded hotel properties confident defendants will choose to continue earning substantial profits at the expense of human life, rights, and dignity,” she says in her complaint.

Named defendants also include Hilton Hotels, Choice Hotels and Marriott. B.J. seeks damages under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), which created civil liability for defendants “who are not themselves subject to criminal liability but who knowingly benefitted from participation in a venture that they knew or should have known was committing an offense.”

“These horrors took place with defendants’ actual and/or constructive knowledge who chose to harbor B.J. within their walls, failing to address such open and obvious criminal activity with effective and enforced anti-trafficking business measures, and otherwise systematically created ways to use sex trafficking victims as a means to increase their profits and public image," B.J. says in her complaint.

She brought the action under a theory of direct beneficial liability, in which she must prove that the hotel chains knowingly benefitted from her being trafficked at their locations.

G6 Hospitality, Hilton, Choice, and Marriott moved to dismiss, claiming they had no specific knowledge of sex trafficking at the locations B.J. mentions in her complaint.

“The question thus presented is whether the plaintiff has plausibly alleged the above-referenced franchisee defendants, in participating in such a venture, knew or should have known they were renting rooms to an individual engaged in trafficking,” wrote U.S. Senior District Judge Maxine Chesney.

Chesney ruled B.J. did not prove that the Marriott, Choice, and Hilton locations were complicit in her trafficking, but found she has standing under TVPRA to seek damages against G6 Hospitality because she claims the manager of a G6 hotel in Concord personally participated in her trafficking.

“In particular, plaintiff alleges her trafficker ‘worked directly with the manager of the Studio 6 Concord to sell [plaintiff] for commercial sex,’ and that ‘when the trafficker was not available, Studio 6’s manager stepped in and trafficked [plaintiff] to buyers” at the hotel.'" Chesney wrote.

And while G6 argued it wasn't responsible for what its manager did outside the scope of employment, “'It is well established that an employee’s misconduct can be attributed to the employer under the respondeat superior doctrine, which is based on a deeply rooted sentiment that it would be unjust for an enterprise to disclaim responsibility for injuries occurring in the course of its characteristic activities,'” Chesney wrote, citing case law.

B.J. claims the manager of the Studio 6 in Concord advised her trafficker on methods to be more discreet to evade police surveillance, arranged discounted rooms for the plaintiff’s trafficker in exchange for sexual favors from the plaintiff, alerted the plaintiff’s trafficker when the police were nearby, and supervised and cared for B.J.'s children, as well as the children of other women she says were being sold for sex in the hotel at the time.

“In sum, the court finds the manager’s actions in connection with plaintiff’s trafficking were not so disconnected from his authority as manager of the hotel property to be deemed outside the scope of his employment,” she wrote.

In addition to the claims against the manager, B.J. says staff at the Studio 6 Concord should have known she was being abused when she encountered them because she was “evidencing obvious signs of abuse” such as bruising, visible cigarette burns, and malnourishment.

“Such allegations, which show hotel staff, who, plaintiff alleges, were required to report indicia of human trafficking to the franchisor, were aware of both commercial sex activity and the abuse of individuals involved in such activity, and suffice to show Studio 6 employees’, and, by extension, G6’s, knowledge of the sex trafficking venture here at issue,” Chesney wrote.

Categories / Courts, Personal Injury, Regional

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