Guest sexual misconduct is a serious issue in hospitality industry

In 2017, a drunken male guest barged into a Marriott hotel lobby bathroom that a housekeeper was cleaning. He groped her and offered her $50, presumably in exchange for sex. The woman's supervisor joked that the man should have offered $100.

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for guests to sexually harass or even assault hotel housekeeping staff. According to Leticia V., the plaintiff in a recent lawsuit, men frequently urinate in front of her and make lewd comments or sexual advances. She's suing the Marriott Irvine, claiming that management hasn't done enough to stop sexual harassment and misconduct by hotel guests.

Are employers legally responsible for guest misconduct?

Employers can be held responsible, if they fail to take reasonable action to stop it. Both the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 require employers to protect their workers from sexual harassment, even if it is caused by clients, customers or guests.

According to this lawsuit, the Marriott Irvine failed to perform any investigation of the lobby bathroom incident. Furthermore, the housekeeper says the company used to provide them with a large sign that prevented guests from entering the restroom when it was being serviced, but the signs were taken away because management felt they were "old fashioned." Eventually, the signs were replaced with an 8-1/2 x 11-inch version that does nothing to deter guests from entering.

Management also experimented with panic buzzers, although they were not effective.

"It wasn't connected to anything; it would just make a noise," says Leticia. "I used it, but I didn't feel any security." The buzzers were taken away in 2012.

The lawsuit accuses the Marriott Irvine of "failure to provide adequate protection" resulting in a "consistent pattern of conduct which occurred on a regular and frequent basis."

That may be enough for the hotel to be held legally responsible for the harassment and misconduct guests afflict on housekeepers like Leticia.

Workplace harassment is common in the hospitality industry

Sexual harassment and misconduct by bosses, co-workers and clients is rampant in the hospitality industry. The Center for American Progress analyzed claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and found that over one-fourth of sexual harassment complaints come from industries that employ large numbers of service workers.

Earlier this winter, Marriott workers struck for almost two months after attempting to make their demands heard at a shareholder meeting in May. Their demands? Higher pay and better protection from harassment. Unfortunately, the Marriott Irvine was not part of the strike.

"I don't want other people to go through this," says Leticia. "Somebody needs to listen to us. This is enough."

If you have questions about workplace sexual harassment, contact an attorney who is experienced in this area of the law.