If something happens once, it’s chance. If it happens twice, it’s coincidence. Three times, and it’s a pattern. Motel 6 may not get to three strikes, however, as the company is accused of violating guest privacy for a second time in less than six months.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Motel 6 on Wednesday over allegations the hotel chain disclosed private guest information to U.S. immigration authorities. Ferguson said Motel 6 employees handed over the names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, license-plate numbers and room numbers for at least 9,150 guests to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency without a warrant. Ferguson claims these actions are in violation of the state’s consumer-protection laws.
The state’s lawsuit, which was filed in King County Superior Court, also alleges that Motel 6 was aware ICE agents had access to guest registry information, which they used to determine guests' national origin. As a result, the district attorney claims at least six individuals were detained on or near Motel 6 properties over a two-year period. If true, this would violate Washington state’s anti-discrimination law.
Ferguson’s lawsuit points to at least six corporate-owned Motel 6 locations in Washington state’s Puget Sound region that provided ICE with guest information without notifying guests or asking for their consent. Guest-registry information is private, and Ferguson said in a statement that Motel 6 violated the law each time it gave out private information. A further 15 other Motel 6 properties operating as franchises are also under investigation, though the lawsuit notes five locations did not disclose any guest information.
Now, the state is seeking civil penalties of up to $2,000 for each violation.
These allegations come some four months after it was revealed Motel 6 employees in Arizona had been providing ICE agents with guest information, leading to at least 20 arrests at two Phoenix Motel 6 properties. At the time, ICE declined to comment on where it receives its information, or if the organization was in contact with hotels to procure guest lists. Motel 6 also maintained at the time that the actions were “undertaken at the local level and without knowledge of senior management.”
In a new corporate statement released today, Motel 6 maintains that it is against the practice, and has immediately taken action:
“In September, Motel 6 issued a directive to every one of our more than 1,400 locations, making it clear that they are prohibited from voluntarily providing daily guests lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Motel 6 takes this matter very seriously, and we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Office of the State Attorney General,” the statement reads.
However, Ferguson said in a statement that the practice was not unique to the company’s two locations in Phoenix, and claimed Motel 6 trained new employees to provide guest lists to agents when asked, without requiring a search warrant or probable cause.
“The company’s actions were methodical,” Ferguson said in a statement. “They trained their new employees on how to do this.”