Trade Groups Sue Seattle Over Hotel Workers Initiative

Dec 22, 2016

Three hospitality business groups are suing Seattle over a measure intended to protect hotel workers that voters approved in November.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association, the Washington Hospitality Association and the Seattle Hotel Association filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court on Monday.

The groups are particularly concerned with a provision that would require hotels to keep lists of guests accused of sexual harassment or assault. In the lawsuit, they claim the Seattle measure duplicates or clashes with existing state and federal laws.

This lawsuit isn't the first time local labor standards have been challenged in court.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Seattle's $15 minimum wage. The Washington State Supreme Court ruled last year that SeaTac's minimum wage ordinance applies to airport workers.

Labor lawyer Liz Ford is the legal director of the Fair Work Center in Seattle. She says some of the issues in the hotel groups' lawsuit are similar to those minimum-wage challenges, specifically the issue of who is allowed to define labor standards.

"We've been establishing minimum standards forever; this is nothing new," she said. "The particular way this is directed at a particular industry is new. But the idea of having minimum standards at the state and local level is not new."

She also noted in the SeaTac case, companies ended up dealing with a complicated series of back-pay lawsuits. That's one worry when this kind of legal challenge comes up.

"Delaying the enforcement of these kind of standards generally serves mostly to create confusion later on," Ford said. 

A spokeswoman for the Seattle Hotel Association said the groups are trying to balance the rights of their workers with the rights of their guests. 

The initiative passed with nearly 77 percent of the vote. The city is still working on how the law will be implemented and enforced.