Hotel Sex Trafficking Lawsuits Move Forward, as JPML Set to Hear Consolidation Arguments in January

Published on December 16, 2019 by Laurie Villanueva

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will consider a proposal to consolidate hotel sex trafficking lawsuits in a single federal court when it convenes its January Hearing Session in Tampa, Florida.

According to an online docket entry posted on December 12th, the Hearing Session will be convened on January 30th. Responses to a plaintiffs’ petition requesting consolidation are due by January 2nd, while any subsequent replies must be filed with the Panel by January 6th.

Major Hotel Chains Allegedly Enabled Sex Trafficking

A growing number of sex trafficking lawsuits have been filed in courts nationwide that accuse major hotel chains, including Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., Red Roof Inn, Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, Best Western Hotels & Resorts and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts Inc.,  of violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act by renting rooms to individuals they knew, or should have known, were engaged in commercial sex.

“The vast majority of human trafficking for commercial sex occurs within the hotel industry and, as a result, brand hotels should be the first line of defense against this ongoing epidemic,” plaintiffs stated in their December 9th petition requesting federal consolidation. “For years, sex trafficking ventures have brazenly and openly operated out of hotels throughout this country, and those trafficking ventures have ‘been able to reap these profits with little risk when attempting to operate within hotels.’”

Among other things, the petition noted that many of the currently pending hotel sex trafficking lawsuits name the same defendants and asserted that many more claims will be filed against those defendants in the near future. As such, centralization before a single judge would “achieve judicial efficiencies and is necessary to avoid inconsistent rulings regarding the Defendants noncompliance with their mandatory, federally imposed duties.”

Finally, the petition proposed that the lawsuits be centralized in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, before Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley, who is already presiding over a majority of the pending cases.

Sex Trafficking and Hotels

Sex trafficking occurs when an individual uses force, coercion, or fraud as a means of inducing someone to engage in a commercial sex act, including prostitution, pornography, or sexual performance, against their will. According to federal law, anyone who sells a minor under the age of 18 for sex is engaging in sex trafficking, regardless of the minor’s consent.

Signs of sex trafficking in a hotel or motel may include:

  • Excessive requests for linens and towel.
  • Intoxicated underage people.
  • Guests wearing inappropriate clothing.
  • Multiple men being escorted one at a time to a room.
  • Paying cash for a room.
  • Guests who have no control over their money or ID.
  • An underage guest who seems to be controlled by an adult.
  • Adult video rentals while children are present.

According to the Polaris Project, 92% of the calls received by the National Human Trafficking hotline between December 2007 and February 2015 involved reports of sex trafficking taking place at hotels.

Hotels have also accounted for 90% of sex trafficking involving children.

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