BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Bringing the latest in a string of legal actions across the country that attempts to hold hotels accountable for sex trafficking, an anonymous plaintiff accused two hotel chains in a federal complaint Tuesday of looking the other way as a young girl was trafficked in their guest rooms.
“The hospitality industry plays a crucial role in the sex trade,” says the suit, filed in Brooklyn by attorney Michael London on behalf of the plaintiff named only by her initials, S.J. It demands $10 million in damages.
“The trope of the ‘no-tell hotel’ is certainly not a new one,” the suit continues.
S.J. was just 10, fleeing an abusive foster home in Brooklyn and a sexually abusive biological father, when she was recruited into the sex trafficking ring by an older girl, according to the suit. Her trafficker drugged and beat her into compliance and forced her to perform commercial sex acts on 15 to 20 adult men a day.
The trafficker would sometimes require S.J. to have sex with Econo Lodge hotel staff in the Bronx in lieu of room payment, the suit continues.
The defendants are Choice Hotels Corporation, which operates Econo Lodge, and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, the parent company of Howard Johnson Inn. The Howard Johnson referred to in the suit is located in Jamaica, Queens.
Representatives for Choice Hotels did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment. Wyndham issued a statement saying it condemns human trafficking in any form.
“We have worked to enhance our policies condemning human trafficking while also providing training to help our team members, as well as the hotels we manage, identify and report trafficking activities,” the company said. “We also make training opportunities available for our franchised hotels, which are independently owned and operated. As the matter is subject to pending litigation, we’re unable to comment further at this time.”
“For years, Defendant Choice Hotels has demonstrated willful blindness to the rampant culture of sex trafficking which tragically occurs on its Econo Lodge branded properties throughout the country,” the suit says.
The defendants failed to properly train their employees to recognize the warning signs of sex trafficking, the lawsuit states, despite existing awareness campaigns and a training module.
As many as 63% of all trafficking incidents happen in hotels nationwide, according to the suit, which adds that there were plenty of warning signs in this case: The trafficked girls went to the Econo Lodge front desk to pick up delivery Chinese food to eat and to grab condoms out of a communal bowl when they ran out. At one point, the plaintiff was allegedly visibly injured from physical abuse. Customers entered the hotel as non-paying guests and did not stay long, while the girls stayed for days at a time. The rooms were left strewn with used condoms.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which Tuesday’s suit cites, was first used in a suit against hospitality defendants in March of this year, according to a white paper from Jones Day.
In April, two women filed suits against hotel operators in Philadelphia, alleging similar negligence in a child sex trafficking situation. An August suit in Georgia accused hotel workers of actually assisting in the trafficking of four women by giving the traffickers rooms in the back of the hotel and close to the exit or offering lingerie sales to a woman who told an employee she was a trafficking victim. A Little Rock Quality Inn allegedly ignored screams from a trafficked woman, according to another suit.
Tuesday’s seems to be the first such suit in New York state.