The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) last night filed a lawsuit in Washington State against the city of Seattle to challenge the legality of a new hotel worker ballot measure. AHLA filed the lawsuit alongside the Washington Hospitality Association and the Seattle Hotel Association.
On Nov. 8, Seattle voters approved Initiative 124—a measure that would require hotels to put the names of guests accused of sexual misconduct on a blacklist and deny them service for up to three years. The law, which took effect on Nov. 30, has been met with sharp criticism from the hotel and lodging community, as this rule includes cases without any corroborating evidence or sworn statements from the alleged victim, AHLA asserts. Union-backed Initiative 124 would also provide housekeepers with panic buttons, limit housekeeper workloads, and provide assistance for low-wage employees in need of health care. The bill exempts union hotels from the law.
While there are many aspects to the new law, AHLA is concerned that the initiative violates the privacy and due process rights of hotel guests by creating a public blacklist. The association also notes that while every legislative act should have one subject expressed in its title, Initiative 124 fails to state its purpose in its title, and covers a wide range of subjects.
AHLA is also considering the precedent to this law—in May 2016, the Washington Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved initiative because it was not limited to a single subject.
“Seattle hotels remain committed to a safe and healthy work environment that respects the rights of both our employees and guests. Initiative 124 threatens that commitment, impeding the industry’s ability to manage and provide opportunities to its workforce, while violating the rights of our customers,” plaintiffs Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA, John Lane, director of local government affairs, Washington Hospitality Association, and Jenne Oxford, general manager of Alexis Hotel Seattle and president of the Seattle Hotel Association, said in a joint statement. “Local hotels remain eager to work with the city, security experts and technology providers to find smart, viable solutions to protect our employees and guests, and AHLA will help facilitate that process whenever possible to ensure each hotel has the best operating methods to fit their individual workplace. But by shutting local job providers and industry experts out of the process, backers of Initiative 124 wrote a deeply flawed proposal behind closed doors that will have serious consequences for employees, the city of Seattle and our industry.”
The plaintiffs continued, “With this backdrop, we have reached an important decision, and today are filing a lawsuit requesting the Court invalidate the ordinance. We do not take this decision lightly, but it is clear to us that this initiative violates state law. Further, one of the provisions, requiring hotels to blacklist guests, forces our industry to choose between protecting our guests or protecting our employees. Our industry must protect both. 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. Hoteliers look forward to having a Washington court hear our case at the earliest opportunity as we continue our commitment to fostering a safe and vibrant environment in Seattle for our employees and guests.”