Trials & Litigation

In growing trend, suits seek to hold motel operators liable for human trafficking

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A lawsuit filed against the operators of several New Jersey motels is part of a growing trend to hold the hospitality industry liable for human trafficking at its properties.

The suit, filed on behalf of “E.B.” in October, was removed to federal court last week, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.

The suit says E.B. was trafficked beginning at age 17 at a Howard Johnson motel, a Knights Inn, a Motel 6 and four other motels that are not part of any chain.

The suit says hotel employees have the ability to spot red flags that may indicate trafficking, and staff members should be trained to spot those signs.

Plaintiffs in trafficking suits against the hotel industry rely on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, according to Hotel Business. A 2003 reauthorization of the law allows civil suits against anyone who “knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value” from participating in a trafficking venture, if they knew or should have known that the venture violated the law.

The Hotel Business story cited a report by the Human Trafficking Institute finding that civil human trafficking lawsuits more than doubled from 2018 to 2019. In 2019, more than 125 hotels and related entities faced trafficking suits.

Experts think the first woman to sue a hotel under the federal was Lisa Ricchio, who claimed in her 2015 lawsuit that she was held captive by a man who trafficked her at a Massachusetts hotel. Ricchio settled the case in December 2019, NPR reports. She had been represented pro bono by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

Three Florida motels settled another case in December, according to a Law360 report. The Jane Doe plaintiff alleged that the hotels ignored suspicious behavior, such as payments with cash or prepaid credit cards, multiple guests visiting the room, and frequent requests for linens. Her claims against two other motels are pending.

See also:

ABA Journal: “State laws provide for civil actions and other creative remedies for trafficking survivors”

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