Avoid human trafficking lawsuits by learning the signs

Hotels, unfortunately, are hot spots for human trafficking. Nearly 100 cases have been filed in both state and federal courts regarding human trafficking at hotels in the last two years, according to research from law firm Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers LLP (Swift Currie). Just last year, sex trafficking cases were filed against 22 hotels and motels in Collier County, FL, for incidents that occurred in 2015 and 2016.

“Cases regarding human trafficking, brought specifically against hotels and other lodging facilities, were initially filed in fall 2019, and many are still pending and in active discovery,” said Sabrina Atkins, an attorney at Smith Currie’s Atlanta office. “Many of the complaints filed in these cases allege that, pursuant to both state and federal statutes, certain hotels and lodging facilities knew or should have known that trafficking was purportedly occurring on the hotel premises and failed to take corrective measures.”

She added that there is still a question whether the lawsuits will be able to proceed past the dispositive motion phase of litigation but “we anticipate that these cases will continue to increase exponentially across the country.”

While liability against hotels is still an unsettled question, she noted, plaintiffs primarily rely upon the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), 18 U.S.C. § 1595 when filing their cases.

“In addition to the TVPRA, plaintiffs have brought suit under similar state trafficking laws, negligence and premise liability theories of recovery and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO),” Atkins pointed out. “Because these cases have not yet proceeded to dispositive motion or trial, it is still unclear as to what penalties would be awarded in these cases. However, most plaintiffs have included claims for punitive damages within their complaints.”

She added that it may be difficult for hotel staff to detect the signs of human trafficking specified by nonprofit organizations focused on ending human trafficking; however, “these entities suggest that hotels be on the lookout for increased foot traffic in and out of a single room, multiple phones or computers in a single room, a guest requesting multiple sets of towels or bed sheets in a single day, as well as women or young girls who appear malnourished or injured, have little luggage, no identification, no money and are constantly watched or monitored.”

Some of the policies and procedures that hotels already use can be helpful in curbing human trafficking. Atkins said those include requiring that all guests present identification upon check-in, registered guests being over a certain age in order to rent a room and front desk staff asking how many people will be staying in each room. “Additionally, employees should be on the lookout for suspicious behavior, especially during late-night check-ins,” she added.

Privacy is a major concern for the hospitality industry, “so companies must carefully balance the safety of guests and potential victims of trafficking with guests who are lawfully renting a room at the property,” she noted.

Stll, it is vitally important that hotel employees know how to report suspicious behavior or concerns, and that “any concerns are documented and handled by appropriate individuals,” said Atkins.
Hotels would be wise to train their staff on human trafficking, the signs that it may be taking place and how to report an incident.

“While training on human trafficking has only become available in the recent years, there are nonprofit organizations that now offer in-person training on the topic,” said Atkins. “Additionally, and to the extent that a hotel belongs within a franchise, many franchises also offer web-based training. If, however, these training options are unavailable, having a simple meeting with staff and employees about human trafficking, what to look for and how to handle suspicions and concerns can go a long way to ensure that any concerning behavior is reported.”

AAHOA is an organization that offers free human trafficking training to its members through the Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) Inhospitable to Human Trafficking Training Sponsored by AAHOA program.

The course was recently updated to focus on unconscious bias and behavior-based indicators of trafficking to help people identify and assess potential trafficking situations. It also includes information about how hotel managers can utilize contactless technology to help prevent trafficking at their properties despite less direct contact with hotel guests, as well as a more visual representation of boys and men throughout the course videos, since trafficking doesn’t only affect girls and women.

“The issue of human trafficking has gained tremendous attention over the last few years, especially as it pertains to the hospitality industry; awareness and education are the first steps in helping hoteliers and their staff identify red flags,” said Ken Greene, AAHOA interim president/CEO. “BEST’s program recently underwent enhancements to content and programming. By updating this information and outlining the correct steps for taking action, we’re putting thousands of trained eyes on offenders.”

Atkins advised hoteliers involved in a human trafficking lawsuit to contact an attorney to review the case since “each case is unique as to the facts and circumstances.”