Marriott Disowns Hotel's Defense in Connecticut Rape Case

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Marriott International is seeking to distance itself from a legal defense employed by one of its franchise hotels, which suggested that a Connecticut woman "failed to exercise due care" before she was raped at gunpoint in front of her children in a hotel parking garage.

The legal tactic drew widespread attention last week when insurance-company attorneys for the Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa filed court papers saying the woman "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and faculties."

The filings came in response to a lawsuit by the woman, who said the hotel failed to adequately police the parking lot or train security employees at the time of the 2006 attack. The attacker is serving a 20-year prison term.

Marriott said it has pressured the legal team to withdraw the filings, saying in a statement Tuesday that it was "a mistake to suggest that the victim of this tragic incident was responsible for the vicious crime against her."

The Stamford Marriott is one of the company's franchise hotels, which make up 70 percent of the 3,200 worldwide hotels under the Marriott brand. The other 30 percent are managed by Marriott but owned by someone else.

Franchise hotels are not owned by Marriott, either. Franchisees pay the Bethesda-based hotel chain for the use of its brand and its reservation system. In return, each franchise hotel must maintain certain standards, including bed size and food service.

About 100 suits a year are filed against Marriott International stemming from incidents at franchise hotels. In those cases, the franchisee's insurance company controls the defense on behalf of those named in lawsuits.

Officials in Marriott's corporate offices said they asked the lawyers not to pursue a blame-the-victim defense as soon as they learned of it.

"This incident is not reflective of our corporate culture or ethical standards, and we apologize to all of our guests and customers who were so deeply offended by the words used in the legal pleading," Marriott said in its statement.

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