Seattle ‘Panic Button’ Law Blocked in Court

December 28, 2018

The Washington State Court of Appeals blocked a so-called “panic button” law for hotels in Seattle on Monday, December 24, 2018. According to the unanimous ruling, Seattle Initiative Measure 124 violated the “single subject condition,” which stops disparate rules being combined into a single law.

The court also ruled Initiative 124 stripped hotel workers and guests of their due process rights.

Seattle Initiative 124 required hotels with 60 or more rooms to issue “panic buttons” to employees that work alone in guest rooms. Under the measure hotels were also required to keep records of guests who have been accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault of hotel workers.

The records were to be kept for five years from the last accusation involving any given guest.

A Brief History of Initiative 124 and AHLA’s Lawsuit

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), which represents hotel owners, operators and other segments of the U.S. lodging industry, filed a lawsuit against the Initiative 124 after it was passed by popular vote via ballot measure on November 8, 2016, and implemented on November 30, 2016.

[Related Content: Major Hotel Chains Debut ‘Panic Buttons’]

The AHLA, which maintains Washington and Seattle chapters, filed suit in Washington state court to block Initiative 124 in December 2016. Opponents of the November 2016 ballot measure have stated that it was unfair to hotel guests, too expensive to implement and that it unfairly advantages unions.

The City of Seattle, the UNITE HERE Local 8 labor union and Seattle Protects Women, an arm of UNITE HERE Local 8, were listed as the respondents in the lawsuit. Many of those in support of Initiative 124 believe that its specific requirements protect and create a safer environment for hotel workers.

AHLA released a written statement on December 26, 2018, in support of the ruling.

“This week’s ruling is welcome news for hotel owners and operators not only in Seattle, but throughout the country, setting an important legal precedent,” said Katherine Lugar, outgoing president and CEO of AHLA, in a written statement released by the organization. “The hotel industry is an industry of people serving people, and the safety and security of our employees and guests is of paramount importance.

[Related Content: AHLA CEO Katherine Lugar Announces Departure]

"We take any allegation of sexual harassment or misconduct extremely seriously, and we are committed to ensuring a safe and healthy workplace for all team members, as evidenced by the 5-Star Promise ... but the flaws contained in this measure were too significant to go unchallenged," Lugar added. "As we stated in court, we opposed Seattle Initiative 124 because we believe it violates the due process rights of our guests and places hotel employees in the role of law enforcement, without proper training.

“And, while the initiative was passed under the guise of employee safety, it included several regulations that have nothing to do with safety, such as work rules and health insurance requirements,” she said. “We are pleased that the Washington Court of Appeals … invalidated the initiative.”

Meetings Today reached out to UNITE HERE Local 8 for its take on the ruling.

"We couldn't disagree more strongly with the Court of Appeals decision and will be working with the [City of Seattle] to ensure that the will of Seattle voters is upheld, and the needs of Seattle hotel workers are met," said Abby Lawlor, spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 8 in a response to Meetings Today.

Meanwhile, Sarah Soliman Daudin, who along with Courtney Stanley ignited #MeetingsToo last year, presenting sessions on preventing and managing sexual harassment in the meetings and events industry, said the law is tricky, and while she doesn't disagree with it being removed, she agrees with each provision within the law. 

[Related Content: 2 Trailblazers Spark Movement to Combat Sexual Harassment]

"I believe each provision listed under Seattle Initiative 124 is completely appropriate for hotel workers protection, however, they should be broken out into separate laws to present to the court, as each provision carries its own complexities," she said.

Soliman Daudin, who is president and CEO of Soliman Productions, said when it comes to the safety and security of hotel workers, particularly on workers in the housekeeping department, she believes a panic button is an effective reporting tool and a great step in preventing sexual harassment or assault cases between guests and staff.

"In addition, I think a guest accused of harassment should have the right to due process, and if a case concluded to find the guest guilty of harassment and/or assault, hotels should hold that guest accountable and retain that individual's information in-house," she said. "Ultimately, this action taken by a hotel would demonstrate their dedication to keeping not only their employees safe, but other guests secure as well."

The Seattle Hotel Association issued the following statement in reaction to the ruling:

"Seattle hotels remain committed to a safe, healthy work environment that respects the rights of both our employees and our guests. We’re pleased with today’s ruling in the Court of Appeals.

"Initiative 124 threatened that commitment, impeding the industry’s ability to manage and provide opportunities to its workforce while violating the rights of our customers.

"We know that working together is a more effective means to address the issues put forth in this initiative.

"Hoteliers look forward to continuing our commitment to fostering a safe and vibrant environment in Seattle for our employees and guests."

The Washington State Court of Appeals December 24, 2018, ruling is available here (PDF).

Profile picture for user Tyler Davidson
About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.