© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

More than two dozen sex trafficking suits against hotel chains to move forward in Columbus

Human trafficking
Creative Commons

Numerous lawsuits accusing hotel chains of being complicit in sex trafficking will be heard in Columbus after a federal judge this week declined most of a request from the hotel corporations to hear the cases in other jurisdictions.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley only allowed six of the 35 civil suits in question to move venues, though the trafficking allegedly took place in hotels across the country. In his ruling, Marbley stated there are more than 40 cases in total. The cases are being pursued against the companies through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

"We have more than 1,000 clients right now, and we've been trying to find a jurisdiction where we can, you know, do these cases with more than one client in front of one judge," said Columbus attorney Steve Babin.

The move protects clients from a "divide and conquer" strategy that Babin argued would have made it harder for the plaintiffs to make their cases that the hotels "knew or should have known about what was going on in their rooms," especially because "95% of trafficking occurs in hotels," he said.

The plaintiffs in the suit argue they "were trafficked on (hotel) properties and (the hotels) had a statutory obligation not to benefit financially from the commercial trafficking ventures," according to court documents. And the plaintiffs "assert that defendants 'hewed to a common policy of harboring known and suspected human traffickers in exchange for financial benefit' and 'actively ignoring signs of ongoing human trafficking' in their hotels."

Chain hotel corporations named in the suits include Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Red Roof Inns, Choice Hotels International, Six Continents Hotels Inc., Holiday Hospitality Franchising and G6 Hospitality. An email sent from WOSU to some of the attorneys involved with the cases was not immediately returned.

Babin said the companies put profits over programs that could have helped trafficking victims. He said the clients want to see enough cash to get a new start in life, and for the companies to implement better policies and procedures to ensure they aren't benefiting from human trafficking.

"These big corporations have, you know, a considerable amount of data in front of them showing that trafficking is an issue on their properties. For example, complaints even about trafficking happening or prostitution happening on their properties. But they've stuck their head in the sand for decades now and done nothing about it," Babin said.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.