A.B. v. Marriott Int'l, Inc.

Citation455 F.Supp.3d 171
Decision Date22 April 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 19-5770
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Jerry Kristal, Weitz & Luxenberg, Cherry Hill, NJ, Jaime M. Farrell, Paul J. Pennock, Weitz & Luxenberg PC, New York, NY, Tiffany R. Ellis, Weitz Luxenberg PC, Detroit, MI, for A.B.

Michael P. O'Day, Ellen E. Dew, Michael Bakhama, DLA Piper LLP, Baltimore, MD, Ben C. Fabens-Lassen, Courtney G. Saleski, DLA Piper US LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Marriott International, Inc.


KEARNEY, District Judge

Approximately twelve years ago, Congress added language to its prohibition on sex trafficking law allowing victims to seek a monetary remedy from a person or legitimate business which knowingly benefitted, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participating in a venture which it knew or should have known engaged in sex trafficking. In the last several months, sex trafficking victims have filed over twenty cases around the country against hotels. We today address A.B.’s claims against Marriott International arising from trafficking of her at three Philadelphia airport hotels from 2009 to 2011. She sues under both the federal law and Pennsylvania's human trafficking statute which requires knowledge. Marriott is the franchisor; it does not own these three hotels. It now moves to dismiss arguing the sex trafficking laws cannot, as a matter of law, apply to it. We agree A.B. does not plead facts after two attempts allowing us to reasonably infer Marriott knew of sex trafficking victimizing her. But A.B. sufficiently pleads specific facts from which we can reasonably infer Marriott, under an actual agency theory subject to discovery, knowingly benefitted from participating in a venture which it should have known engaged in her trafficking. This is all Congress requires a victim to plead. But she does not timely plead her Pennsylvania claim, nor does she plead facts allowing us to infer Marriott's knowledge under Pennsylvania's human trafficking statute. We proceed to discovery on Marriott's potential liability if a jury finds it should have known of the sex trafficking in the three airport hotels.

I. Alleged Facts

In 2009, eighteen year old A.B. met a sex trafficker online who convinced her to travel from her home in Florida to New York under the guise of a romantic relationship.1 After arriving in New York, A.B. alleges her trafficker beat and raped her, and forced her into commercial sex trafficking in New York for approximately three to four weeks when another trafficker "bought" her.2 From 2009 to 2011, the second trafficker forced A.B. into commercial sex acts for days at a time at Marriott International owned hotels at the Philadelphia Airport: the Fairfield Inn by Marriott – Philadelphia Airport; Renaissance Philadelphia Airport Hotel; and Four Points by Sheraton Philadelphia Airport.3 A.B.’s trafficker forced her to sexually service paying strangers in the form of "in call[s]" and "out call[s]" at Marriott's Philadelphia Airport hotels.4

Between 2009 and 2011, her traffickers forced her into "in calls" at the three Marriott owned Philadelphia Airport hotels by as many as six men an evening.5 Each man entered and exited rooms at the three Philadelphia Airport hotels, and a "constant stream of male visitors" went to her room "straight from the main lobby and front doors so that the foot traffic was both voluminous and obvious."6 Her traffickers frequently paid for rooms at all three hotels for at least a week at a time with a prepaid credit card and hotel staff were aware of A.B.’s presence there.7 A.B.’s traffickers brought her to each hotel with little, if any, luggage and she did not have a phone, wallet, or any form of identification.8 The hotel rooms where she performed commercial sex acts "were littered with multiple broken objects, used condoms, and other sex paraphernalia left behind in the rooms."9 The staff at each of the three hotels saw signs of her visible injury and were aware of frequent "loud altercations" as well as "constant" attacks on her by her trafficker loud enough for staff and hotel patrons to hear.10

Her trafficker continued to force her into commercial sex for five years.11 A.B. avers Marriott through hotel video surveillance and complaints regarding "suspicious activity" had actual or constructive notice of drug dealing, prostitution, "and/or general safety concerns at its hotels."12 If Marriott paid attention to these activities at its hotels, including the "red flags" surrounding A.B.’s trafficking, she believes "it would have been impossible for them not to notice [her] victimization."13

The hospitality industry's participation in sex trafficking.

The hospitality industry generally knows of its role in securing the private rooms for the sex trafficking industry in exchange for room rentals.14 The Polaris Project, a national organization combating sex trafficking, issued reports beginning in 2015 regarding the role of hotels and motels in sex trafficking.15 Marriott executives, directors, and managers received and reviewed Polaris Project reports.16 From 2009 to 2014, Marriott executives, directors, and managers also reviewed other information from publicly available sources regarding sex trafficking in hotels and met to discuss sex trafficking in their hotels.17

Marriott "permitted anonymity to the buyers and non-traceability, making them ideal venues for sex traffickers to sell [A.B.] for sex."18 A.B. asserts Marriott knew or should have known such anonymity "made their hotels ideal venues" for sex trafficking and knew or should have known hotels are "the top-reported venue where sex trafficking acts occur."19

A.B. specifically pleads Marriott knew or should have known sex trafficking in their Philadelphia Airport hotels between 2009 and 2014, including the practices of "in calls" and "out calls" and failed to adopt and enforce anti-trafficking policies from the corporate level to the "property level," failed to train staff on how to detect and respond to sex trafficking, failed to establish safe and secure reporting mechanisms at local hotels, and failed to take measures to prevent sex trafficking at its hotels to conceal sex trafficking occurring at its hotels.20 Despite its knowledge of sex trafficking in its hotels, Marriott did nothing to stop it, and, when Marriott eventually began to adopt policies to combat sex trafficking, "it did so in appearance only."21

Marriott's control over the three Airport hotels.

Marriott sells its brand name and marketing power to third-party owners for use for building and operations run by a franchisee or third-party management company under Marriott's control.22 The three Philadelphia Airport hotels where traffickers housed A.B. pay approximately ten percent of their total revenue to Marriott.23 Each franchisee owner is contractually required to develop and maintain the property in accordance with Marriott's brand standards required by the franchise agreement.24 Marriott may enforce its standards through periodic inspection, and even termination of the agreement if its hotels are found to be inadequate.25

Marriott's actual and/or apparent agency relationship with its Philadelphia Airport hotels and willful blindness of sex trafficking at their hotels.

A.B. alleges Marriott has or had an agency relationship with each of the three Philadelphia Airport hotels created by Marriott's "exercise of an ongoing and systematic right of control" over the three hotels including: hosting online bookings on Marriott's domain; requiring the three hotels to use Marriott's customer rewards program; setting employee wages; making employment decisions and advertising for employment; sharing profits; standardizing employee training; building and maintaining the facility as specified by Marriott; standardized rules of operation; regulation site inspections; fixing pricings, and other actions depriving the three hotels from any independence in their business operations.26 A.B. alleges an actual and/or apparent agency exists between Marriott and the three hotels because Marriott holds out the three hotels as possessing authority to act on its behalf.27

A.B. alleges Marriott knew or should have known its three Philadelphia Airport hotels were in areas known for high incidences of crime and prone to sex trafficking during the time of A.B.’s victimization.28 Despite having actual or constructive knowledge of sex trafficking at their hotels, A.B. alleges Marriott repeatedly failed to thwart this activity and its apathy to the risk of sex trafficking and willful blindness to the role its hotels play in sex trafficking facilitated A.B.’s trafficking at its three Philadelphia Airport hotels.29

A.B. alleges Marriott "breached its duties" by failing, altogether or adequately, to "distribute information to assist employees in identifying human trafficking;" "provide a process for escalating human trafficking concerns within the organization;" require "managers, employees, or owners attend training relating to human trafficking;" "provide new hire orientation on human rights and corporate responsibility;" "provide training and education on human trafficking through webinars, seminars, conferences, and online portals;" "develop and hold or require ongoing training sessions on human trafficking;" and/or "provide checklists, escalation protocols and information to property management staff or tracking performance indicators and key metrics on human trafficking prevention."30 A.B. alleges Marriott should have known about sex trafficking in its Philadelphia Airport hotels because of six incidents of trafficking in 2012 through 2018 in Marriott International owned hotels in California, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Texas.31

Marriott facilitated A.B.’s trafficking.

A.B. alleges Marriott profited from A.B.’s sex trafficking and knowingly or negligently aided and engaged her trafficker in his venture by leasing rooms to her...

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