SEATTLE (CN) – The Washington state attorney general sued the Motel 6 hotel chain Wednesday, claiming it gave guest lists to federal immigration officials who targeted guests with Hispanic-sounding last names.
The lawsuit filed in King County says the illegal guest-register sweeps caused the detention of at least six individuals. If the state wins its legal action, the motel chain could pay up to $18 million in fines.
Guest-information releases occurred at several Motel 6 locations in western Washington where motel staff gave out personal information including customers’ driver’s license numbers, room numbers, names, birthdates and license plate numbers, according to the lawsuit.
Washington state says the information of more than 9,000 guests from six different Motel 6 locations was released between 2015 and 2017. The lawsuit that also says Motel 6 employees were trained to give information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Officials without requiring the agents to offer reasonable suspicion or warrants for the information.
The Washington state attorney general’s office began investigating Motel 6 locations after two Motel 6 locations in Arizona made national news last year for voluntarily providing guests’ personal information to ICE, according to the attorney general’s statement.
“After news reports in Arizona revealed Motel 6 staff was handing over guests’ private information, Motel 6 implied this was a local problem,” said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “We have found that is not true. Washingtonians have a right to privacy and protection from discrimination. I will hold Motel 6 accountable and uncover the whole story of their disturbing conduct.”
The release of the guest information violates a Washington Supreme Court order that guest registry information is private and random searches of the information violates rights to privacy found in the Washington state Constitution.
In that case, State v. Jorden, the court said: “Information contained in a motel registry constitutes a private affair under article 1, section 7 of the Washington state Constitution because it reveals sensitive, discrete, and private information about the motel’s guest.”
The state’s claims against Motel 6 include violations of the state Consumer Protection Act and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination. The state seeks a penalty of $2,000 against the motel chain for each name found to have been released, or as much as $18 million.
Motel 6 says it has already made policy changes in response to the incidents in Arizona this past September.
“In September, Motel 6 issued a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations, making it clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guests lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Motel 6 takes this matter very seriously, and we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Office of the State Attorney General,” said Motel 6 spokeswoman Jillian Perera.
Motel 6 has 11 corporate-owned and 15 franchise-owned hotels in Washington state.
The Attorney General’s Office said they will investigate whether the remaining 20 Motel 6 locations in Washington state illegally provided information. Customers who suspect their information may have been illegally disclosed can call the Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office at (844) 323-3864.