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California Holds Hotels Responsible for Knowledge of Sex Trafficking

Updated: May 5, 2023

Every year, new California laws go into effect. One of those laws is AB-1788, which will subject hotels to civil penalties if employees fail to inform police officials of sex trafficking at their establishment.

Beginning this year, hotels will face civil penalties if an employee in a management position knows or should have known of sex traffic activity happening in the hotel and doesn’t inform law enforcement, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, or another victim service organization within 24 hours.

A hotel will also face penalties for any employee who knowingly benefits “from participating in a venture that the employee knew or acted in reckless disregard of the activity constituting sex trafficking activity within the hotel.”

Freshman Jesus Ramirez said, “Hotel people should inform police of illegal stuff. [But] it doesn’t make sense if the hotel [gets] a civil penalty.” He then questions why the employees don’t get a civil penalty since they were the ones who knowingly knew about it but didn’t say anything. However, the mere lack of reporting of a sex trafficking case occurring in a hotel will not result in an employer’s liability to the sex trafficking victim or victims.

AB-1788 aims to add additional protections for victims of human trafficking. This bill allows city and/or county attorneys to seek relief and civil penalties against a hotel that recklessly disregards human trafficking on its premises.

The new law will authorize a city, county, or city and county attorney to seek equitable relief against a hotel and to seek a civil penalty of $1,000 for the first violation, $3,000 for the second violation within the same calendar year, and $5,000 for the third within the same calendar year.

The bill authorizes courts to increase the amount of the civil penalties from the 4th violation and beyond at its discretion. The additional amount of the penalty, in this case, may be no more than $10,000. The statute of limitation is within 5 years of the violation, or within 5 years of the date the victim attains the age of majority.

Before the new law, California only required hotels subject to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to provide a minimum of 20 minutes of education and training regarding human-trafficking awareness to each employee.

Businesses that disregard this training risk receiving an order demanding compliance from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Despite the fact that this training requirement includes advice on reporting and responding, it did not establish an explicit obligation for a hotel or its staff to disclose trafficking behavior.



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