Motel 6 Sued By Washington State

posted by Brad Ford -

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson Wednesday announced a lawsuit against national hotel chain Motel 6 for voluntarily providing guest lists to agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on a routine basis for at least two years. Each time Motel 6 released a guest list, it included the name and private information of every guest at the hotel.

The Attorney General’s Office began to investigate Motel 6 locations in Washington after two Motel 6 locations in Arizona made national news for voluntarily providing guests’ personal information to ICE. Motel 6 admits that at least six of its Washington state locations shared personal information of its guests with ICE. This lead to significant consequences including the detention of at least six individuals.

Specifically, four of those locations released the personal information of at least 9,151 guests to ICE, even though its privacy policy assured consumers it would protect this information. Motel 6 admits that two additional locations shared this private information with ICE, but has not provided details regarding the number of individuals affected.  The personal information released included customers’ driver’s license numbers, room number, name, guest identification number, date of birth and license plate number. The voluntary release of this information constitutes an unfair and deceptive business practice, and violates the Consumer Protection Act.

Additionally, Ferguson asserts that Motel 6 knew that ICE used its guest lists to target customers based on national origin, including customers with Latino-sounding names. Motel 6’s actions constituted discrimination against these individuals based on their national origin, a violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

The lawsuit, filed today in King County Superior Court, asserts that Motel 6 committed thousands of violations of the Consumer Protection Act and hundreds of violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Motel 6 admits ICE detained at least six people as a result of this practice on or near Motel 6 property.

“After news reports in Arizona revealed Motel 6 staff was handing over guests’ private information, Motel 6 implied this was a local problem,” Ferguson said. “We have found that is not true. Washingtonians have a right to privacy, and protection from discrimination. I will hold Motel 6 accountable and uncover the whole story of their disturbing conduct.”

Motel 6 has more than 1,200 locations across North America with more than 105,000 rooms. The company owns and operates 26 locations in Washington, including both company-owned and franchise-owned motels. All six locations mentioned in the lawsuit are corporate-owned motels.

In September 2017, a reporter in Arizona published reports that Motel 6 voluntarily provided guest lists to ICE without a warrant at two corporate-owned locations in the Phoenix area, leading to the detention of at least 20 individuals in Arizona. After the story made national news, Motel 6 released a short statement that the practice of providing guest information to ICE was “implemented at the local level without the knowledge of senior management.”

The Attorney General’s Office began investigating the motel chain’s Washington locations in September and discovered that the incidents in Arizona were not isolated.

The office interviewed several people who have worked at these Motel 6 locations in Washington. During the Attorney General’s investigation, Motel 6 admitted that at least six Washington Motel 6 locations provided guest registry information to ICE agents since at least 2015: Bellingham, North Everett, South Everett, South Seattle, SeaTac and South Tacoma. The Attorney General’s investigators discovered that over a two-year period, four of the six locations released the information of more than 9,000 guests. The company provided no details regarding two of those six locations, and only partial information  for the other four locations.  Consequently, the number of guests affected by Motel 6’s practice will undoubtedly increase significantly when it is required to provide more information during the course of the lawsuit.

Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts Motel 6 violated the law every time it voluntary released an individual’s private information to ICE. The consequences for some guests were significant. This unlawful practice led to ICE detaining at least six guests at the motels.

In addition to continuing to investigate the extent of violations of the six Motel 6 locations mentioned in the lawsuit, the Attorney General’s Office will investigate whether the remaining 20 Motel 6 locations in Washington illegally provided information.

The guest lists released by Motel 6 included customers’ room number, name, guest identification number, date of birth and license plate number ¾ information that is protected under Washington state law. A Washington state Supreme Court case established that guest registry information is private and that random searches of this information violates rights to privacy found in the Washington Constitution.

In that case, State v. Jorden, the court said, “Information contained in a motel registry constitutes a private affair under article 1, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution because it reveals sensitive, discrete, and private information about the motel’s guest.”

The court noted there are a variety of lawful reasons an individual may want their hotel stay to remain private: “The desire for privacy may extend to business people engaged in confidential negotiations … One could also imagine a scenario … where a domestic violence victim flees to a hotel in hopes of remaining hidden from an abuser.”  

The Motel 6 privacy policy states that it is “committed to safeguarding the privacy of the personal information that we gather.”

Motel 6 locations provided a form for ICE visits, referred to as a “law enforcement acknowledgement form,” which agents signed upon receiving the day’s guest list. At least three of these locations changed the form in the same way at about the same time in May 2017.

Motel 6 trained new employees on the process to give the guest registry and all the names of their guests to ICE. The training and practice did not require the agents to produce a warrant.

At the South Everett location, for example, ICE agents visited the motels early in the morning or late at night, requested the day’s guest list, circled any Latino-sounding names and returned to their vehicles. On at least one occasion, ICE later returned to the motel and detained at least one individual. The Attorney General’s investigators discovered that from Feb. 1 to Sept. 14, 2017, the South Everett location gave guests’ private, personal information to ICE on approximately 228 occasions in a 225-day period.

Motel 6 knew that ICE used the guest lists to target guests based on their national origin. The Washington Law Against Discrimination specifically prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of national origin, Ferguson’s lawsuit alleges that Motel 6 did both.

Specific alleged violations

Ferguson’s lawsuit alleges the following violations of the Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination:

Motel 6 committed unfair acts in violation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by violating its guests’ right to privacy.

Motel 6 committed deceptive acts in violation of the CPA by violating its own privacy policy and misrepresenting its privacy policy to guests and prospective guests.

Motel 6 committed an automatic violation of the CPA by violating the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) in the course of trade or commerce.

Motel 6 violated the WLAD by denying the full enjoyment of places of public accommodation to its guests on the basis of the guests’ national origin.

Motel 6 violated the WLAD when its motels, as places of public accommodation, directly or indirectly discriminated against its guests on the basis of the guests’ national origin.

Ferguson argues that each time Motel 6 disclosed each guest’s name and information qualifies as a separate violation of the Consumer Protection Act. The office asks for civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.

The state also asks for recovery of its costs and fees.

The Attorney General’s Office will continue with its investigation to discover the entire scope of the unlawful disclosures made by Motel 6 and seek appropriate relief from the court.

If you believe you were affected by Motel 6's practices, please contact the Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit at (844) 323-3864.

Assistant Attorney General Mitchell Riese of the AGO’s Civil Rights Unit is lead attorney in the case.

Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Ferguson named the unit for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.

Source: Washington Attorney General