Lawsuit claims Detroit, Ann Arbor hotels ignored signs of human trafficking

12 hotel chains named in lawsuits

Lawsuit filed against hotels over human trafficking

DETROIT – The vast majority of sex trafficking happens inside hotels. Survivors are working together to put a stop to that trafficking.

A lawsuit laid out grisly details. The survivor in this lawsuit was 17 years old when she was first kidnapped (by a stranger at school), driven to a hotel and imprisoned there. Her story is not unique. The lawsuit contends that there are 1,500 human trafficking victims pointing the finger at 12 of the nations largest hotel chains, saying they should have seen the signs of trafficking going on right under their nose and done something to stop it.

Tiffany Ellis is representing the survivor in the lawsuit. The lawsuit contends that the trafficker took her right through the front doors of Detroit’s Holiday Inn Express and Ann Arbor’s Fairfield Inn to a rented room.

Each time she said there wouldn’t be any eye-contact with hotel staff, she didn’t carry any identification and didn’t have luggage. She said she was held captive, chained inside the hotel rooms in and out of consciousness. When she did wake up she said there would be evidence and pain that indicated she had been raped, but she didn’t have a memory of it.

Ellis said the woman survived one particularly gruesome rape with numerous incidents of violence that should have alerted the staff that something was going on. Ellis said the woman went to the front desk of the hotel with blood running down her legs and police weren’t called. The survivor is suing the hotels were she was trafficked between 2003 and 2008.

“She would stay for days at a time in the hotel in Ann Arbor, not come out of her room, exhibited signs of fear and anxiety was often skimpily clothed and exhibited signs of bruising on her arms and legs,” Ellis said. “There were incidents of violence there as well, rather it occurred in the room or in the hallways they should have heard through hotel security, through their guests at the hotel or even their security cameras.”

Survivors and others want to stop hotels being a haven for sex traffickers to conduct business.

“Despite all of those opportunities to see what was happening, they just kept accepting the money for the rooms,” Ellis said. "Approximately eight out of 10 arrested for any type of human trafficking occur in the countries largest hotel chains.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and Marriott International are named in the Detroit lawsuit. Those are the companies representing the Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield Inn where she said she was trafficked.

The Local 4 Defenders discovered other survivors are suing other hotel chains around the country. Twelve hotel chains are named in lawsuits filed across the country, including names like Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental, Red Roof Inn, and more. Ellis said those hotels should have spotted the red flags.

Ellis said there are signs, like if a person checks in with cash and asks for two adjoining rooms. Traffickers will often get two rooms that are joined together, one for a base of operations and the other for the actual sex crimes, according to Ellis.

“If they are coming in looking scared and anxious ridden, potentially with bruises on their body, or if somebody is controlling another persons documents,” Ellis said.

In some circumstances women could be kept for days, or weeks at a time. They won’t leave the room, they’ll decline room service and decline room cleaning, according to Ellis.

Local 4 reached out to both hotel companies for statements on the lawsuit.

Marriott said it does not comment on pending litigation.

InterContinental released the following statement:

“While we cannot speak to ongoing litigation, we condemn human trafficking in all forms and are committed to working with hotel owners to fight human trafficking across out industry and in local communities. As part of this, we provide mandatory human trafficking prevention training for all IHG-branded hotels in the Americas, and have been rolling out the program to all IHG branded hotels globally.”

There is a hearing this week in Florida to decide if the Detroit case should be centralized with several other similar cases, under the same judge. The current count of cases is 36 across 21 different jurisdictions.

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.