Hoteliers: Ignore complaints at your own risk

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A truism: The challenges a hotel manager must address know no bounds. Two recent court cases prove this yet again.

After making a reservation at a Six Continents Hotels property, a man received up to 10 identical text messages from the hotel. The communications were generic. Plaintiff requested multiple times that the messages stop and was given assurances they would. But alas, they didn’t.

Understandably irked, the man sued the hotel, alleging a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. That law restricts telemarketing by prohibiting the sending of text messages using an automatic telephone dialing system with the capacity to store and produce telephone numbers to be called, and then dial those numbers at random or in sequential order without human intervention.

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The hotel asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the calls do have human involvement because they are triggered only when a person makes a hotel reservation. Creative, but not convincing. The court rejected this argument, so the case will proceed to trial if the parties do not settle. The decision clarified that the statutory test for human involvement refers to the time a call or message is sent or dialed, not what happened earlier to cause entry of the phone number into the automatic dialing system.

The second case of note involved an employment issue at the Hilton Garden Inn Indianapolis Airport. A male housekeeper “did not follow traditional gender norms.” Immediately upon being hired, co-workers and a supervisor began calling him derogatory names. The worker reported the slurs to management but the harassment continued. He was terminated for what the supervisor identified as “creative differences.”

The worker sued, claiming sex discrimination. The hotel sought dismissal of the case arguing that gender nonconformity was not a protected class in the law. The court rejected this parsing of terms. It held that discrimination on the basis of failure to adhere to stereotypical gender norms is “purely and simply” a form of illegal sex discrimination. The case will now proceed to trial unless the parties settle.

The lessons are twofold. First, if you plan on a telemarketing campaign, consult your attorney early in the process. Second, ensure your antidiscrimination policy is up to date, investigate employee complaints promptly and take appropriate corrective action. 

Karen Morris is a lawyer, municipal judge and distinguished professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where she teaches hospitality law. Contact her at [email protected].