Hoteliers Challenge Union-Friendly Hotel Regulations

Seattle ballot initiative aimed at cracking down on harassment

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A group of hoteliers is suing to overturn a Seattle ballot initiative that it says will blacklist guests accused of sexual harassment without affording them due process.

On Tuesday, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and its Washington state and Seattle chapters—industry trade groups with 24,000 members—announced that it filed suit in a Washington state court to overturn Initiative 124, which passed overwhelmingly in November.

The initiative requires hotels to provide housekeeping staff with panic buttons and also would force hotels to blacklist or ban guests accused of sexual harassment even if no official report is filed. The association says that the denial of due process is troublesome and that existing federal and state laws are adequate to address and punish instances of assault.

"The potential for mistakes and abuse is significant, especially because the hotels are allowed no opportunity to determine whether there was actually any wrongdoing, and guests are allowed no opportunity to refute the allegations. The blacklist provision requires hotels to punish people (by placing them on a list and denying some of them accommodations) without any opportunity to investigate the allegations," the lawsuit says (emphasis original).

The trade associations said in a release that the blacklisting system unfairly forces hotels to choose between "protecting our guests or protecting our employees." The hoteliers said that they take allegations of assault seriously, but that the provisions in the initiative add hurdles to the legal process by hampering cooperation between victims, the accused, and law enforcement.

"It is clear to us that this initiative violates state law," the trade associations said in a release. "This ordinance violates the rights of our guests and forces our employees to take on a law enforcement role. We know that working together is a more effective means to address the issues put forth in this ill-conceived referendum."

Initiative 124 included a number of provisions favorable to unions. While it was ostensibly aimed at cracking down on sexual harassment, the initiative included a number of regulations outside of the scope of harassment. If it goes into effect, the initiative would force hoteliers to provide Cadillac health benefits to workers, as well as limit the square feet a housekeeper can clean. The provision makes exemptions for unionized hotels, which could get around these costs through collective bargaining negotiations.

The suit says that straying from assault violates the city charter, which requires that legislative acts clearly focus on one area or policy. The association says that hiding the workplace benefits in a ballot initiative on assault misled voters and "is therefore void."

"Neither the ballot title nor the concise statement express the multiple subjects of I-124, particularly those which deal with compensation and fringe benefits, legal standards for discrimination claims, and the novel and disturbing requirement that hotels deny accommodation to certain guests without notice or a chance to respond to allegations," the suit says.

A spokeswoman at the city attorney's office said that the city received the suit on Monday and plans to defend the initiative in court. She declined to comment on the specifics of the policy and the contents of the suit citing ongoing litigation.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.

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