A Holiday Inn in California asked to have a case dismissed from court earlier this month after one of its employees handed out a guest’s room key, resulting in her rape.
A lawsuit filed in Bakersfield, California last year alleges that the rapist bribed a front desk employee with $100 for access to a guest’s room. The perpetrator “was noticeably intoxicated from drugs and alcohol” when making the request, according to a statement from the law office representing the victim.
He then entered the guest’s room before security cameras caught him leaving with his pants down. He was convicted of raping the woman while in her room and a court sentenced him to three years in prison.
And now the plaintiff is seeking damages from the hotel chain-despite major setbacks.
During deposition, the receptionist on duty said that “she was not trained to obtain identification from guests before giving replacement keys.” The Holiday Inn is attempting to have the case thrown out of court, saying it is not at fault because the rape was an “unforeseeable” circumstance.
A trial by jury for the case is scheduled in California for April 18.
However, the case is, unfortunately, not unique. Since 2010, there have been at least six similar reported instances.
Early in the morning on April 11, 2014, Cheri Marchionda awoke in her hotel room to a hand on her leg. A man was standing at the foot of her bed.
"She asked how he got into her room. He said he had friends," a police report stated. "He placed his hands down her pajama bottoms. Suspect asked victim to touch him. She refused and froze."
The man, Christopher Edward LaPointe, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he 'proceeded over a substantial amount of time to assault, batter, terrorize and rape" Marchionda. They had met earlier that day in the hotel restaurant when she rebuffed his advances. He allegedly received access to her room with the help of a front desk employee and security guard.
In December 2013, 28-year-old Kayla Snipe was raped in her Embassy Suites hotel room in North Charleston. "My hotel room key was given to my attacker by hotel staff," Snipe said at a press conference. “All it took was him telling them he was my boyfriend.”
On June 5, 2014 at a Quality Inn in Connecticut, an 81-year-old woman was attacked and raped in her hotel room. Once again, front desk staff had handed her room key to her attacker. The rapist received a sentence of two years in prison and 10 years probation. The employee and the hotel received a lawsuit.
In March 2011 at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis, a drunken 42-year-old man molested a 9-year-old girl after hotel staff gave him the key to her room. In January 2011, a woman staying at a hotel in Helsinki was sexually assaulted in her room after staff gave her room key to a drunken man who said he was her husband. In April 2010, a woman in New York City was attacked after a hotel staffer gave her room key to a bartender.
A precedent for this type of case remains to be determined. For example, the Marchionda case went to court in 2015. It remains open and in litigation. Most of the other cases have been settled out of court in mediation.
"There are many, many cases involving lapses in appropriate hotel security," Fred Pritzker, a lawyer specializing in hotel negligence, told Travel + Leisure. "But the legal standards depend on state to state."
The lawsuits that generally emerge from these cases are based on negligence per se - a hotel's "failure to use reasonable care," according to Pritzker.
Although there is no law regulating security, most hotels, Pritzker said, voluntarily comply with industry-wide safety standards.
Typical standard operating procedure dictates that front desk staff are not authorized to hand over room keys without verifying both a guest's identity and room number. If the customer does not have ID on hand, security is supposed to accompany the guest up to their room and verify identity once there.
It’s impossible to talk about these cases without mentioning that in every single instance, a man’s claims overrode a hotel’s duty to protect a guest - a terrifying reality for any female solo traveler. However that doesn’t mean that female travelers need avoid staying in hotels by themselves.
A hotel's security is only as good as its staff training. Anthony Melchiorri, a hotel consultant and host of "Hotel Impossible" on Travel Channel, suggests that guests test out a hotel's security for themselves as soon as they arrive. Front desk should never say a guest's name or room number out loud during check-in. If they do, Melchiorri advises immediately asking for a different room.
"When you're in your room on your cell phone, you can call the front desk and say 'I’d like to speak to your name. What room is he in?" Melchiorri told T+L. "They should never, ever, ever give you the room number."
If front desk reveals this information to the "caller," guests are well within their rights to go down to the front desk and demand a room change.
Guests who are especially worried about safety can take self-defense classes, invest in a personal safety alarm like Robocopp, and inspect their hotel rooms upon arrival for any weaknesses, such as a faulty lock on windows or doors.
"Hotels are very safe places way over 90 percent of the time," Melchiorri said. "I’ve traveled all over the world and never had a security issue. People should have fun and not worry about going to a hotel, but if it doesn’t smell good, it doesn’t smell good."