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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Sex-trafficking victim can proceed with case against Marriott, franchisee, judge rules

Although a sex trafficking victim can't prove Marriott and its franchisee had an established business relationship with her trafficker, she can proceed with arguments that hotel staff should have done more to intervene, a federal judge ruled.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Hotel chain Marriott International and a local California franchisee must face claims they were complicit in sex trafficking because neither party did enough to intervene and help a woman who showed signs of being trafficked, a federal judge ruled.

In a complaint filed last August in federal court in California, an anonymous woman said her traffickers shuttled her between various chain hotels in Sacramento and the Bay Area. She brought claims against several hotel companies, including Marriott and a franchisee, over what she said were violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

The victim said her traffickers chose hotels where they could pay in cash or prepaid cards and knew the staff. Her complaint also named other companies, including Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.

The victim said there were obvious signs of sex trafficking that should have set off alarm bells for staff. Men who were not guests at the hotels came in and out at odd hours, she said, while she often appeared undressed, malnourished, sleep-deprived and bruised.

In addition, the victim said, her trafficker screamed at her in hotel rooms and physically assaulted her in public areas. She said staff were aware of these red flags and others, including evidence of illegal drug use, and yet did not report the suspicious activity to police.

In an order on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd, a Obama appointee, granted a motion to dismiss from Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and its franchisee because, Drozd said, the victim had not shown that hotel staff knew or should have known about the sex trafficking. He noted the victim had only stayed at a Wyndham hotel for one night.

Likewise, Drozd also granted a motion from Marriott to dismiss the victim's claims that the company had an established business relationship to rent rooms to traffickers. But he allowed other claims against Marriott and a franchisee to proceed, saying hotels like Marriott could be held liable for not taking action when there were signs a hotel guest was being trafficked.

The facts in the case supported the notion that Marriott staff knew the victim "was being sex trafficked and subjected to the use of force," Drozd wrote in his order. "They nonetheless continued to transact business with her and her traffickers, thus creating a continuous business relationship."

Unlike the other hotel chains named in the case — where the victim stayed for just one night — she remained at a Courtyard by Marriott franchise in Campbell, California for three nights.

Marriott argued that it simply had a "franchisor-franchisee relationship" with the Campbell hotel — but Drozd didn't buy it. Refusing to let the parent company off the hook, Drozd noted that Marriott exercises extensive control over security procedures and payment requirements at its franchises, along with policies meant to respond to incidences of possible sex trafficking.

The Jane Doe victim in the case is asking for a jury trial and for damages. Representatives for both the victim and Marriott did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Categories / Criminal, Regional

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