15 August 2016, Lawsuit over sexual assault

04 October, 2016 Legal

The Insurance Journal reports that in August 2016, a female employee of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and its Na Ho’ola Spa filed a lawsuit against the hotel and one Mr. Hassan Maan Melhem, who allegedly sexually groped and propositioned her in March. Melhem, who is an interpreter for a Saudi Arabian prince, pleaded no contest to the charges – fourth degree sexual assault, and “was given a deferred sentence and probation,” reports CourthouseNews.com.

Melhem is also apparently responsible for administering the schedule of his benefactors, including booking entire floors of hotels such as the Hyatt, a major revenue-generating event for hotels the Saudi royals stay in, says CourthouseNews.com.

The same source says Melhem is reported to have tried to make his masseuse – the victim in this case – touch his private area, and she is said to have refused and fled the room. Melhem then pursued her and allegedly offered the masseuse a gift to visit his room. Fearing for her safety, the masseuse fled the hotel and returned the next day. At that time, she asserts that the head of hotel security initially tried to dissuade her from reporting the incident to the police. Eventually, however, it was. Melhem was arrested, spent some time in detention, and retuned to the hotel the next day – again, as reported by CourthouseNews.com.

Hyatt’s Chicago headquarters released the following statement on the matter:

“While we do not discuss pending litigation, the safety and well-being of our colleagues is a top priority for Hyatt and we treat all safety concerns raised by our colleagues seriously. We pride ourselves on fostering and maintaining an award-winning workplace that’s reflected in the long tenure of our colleagues around the world, including those in Honolulu.”

CourthouseNews.com says the masseuse “is suing the Hyatt, Melhem and unnamed members of the ODAIS Group [group unknown – might be OASIS Group?] for sexual harassment, assault and battery and negligence. She seeks special, general and punitive damages.”

There are four preliminary takeaways here. First, this is yet another case demonstrating the nexus between hotel safety/security and negligence, though in this case, it is not a hotel outsider assailing a patron. It is a hotel patron who assailed a staff member, specifically a moneyed patron that contributes major revenues to the hotel. Clearly, however, the plaintiff believes that the hotel did not do enough to protect her, hence the negligence charge. And it is a powerful charge.

Second, situations like these present a conundrum for hotels. Their first instinct is to cater to the needs of patrons and protect revenues. This is the core essence of the hotel business. At the same time, the safety and security of staff is equally important, as Hyatt asserted. If the staff is not safe, then what does that say about the status of the hotel and its brand?

Third, societal perception of corporations and even individuals matter more today than they did 10 or 20 years ago. News and social media can paint corporations in a negative light even as they try to follow legal and corporate procedures to methodically mitigate situations such as the Honolulu Hyatt spa case.

Because of these issues, many corporations, including hotels, need to increase their sophistication and decisiveness in dealing with these type cases, lest damaging social perceptions negatively impact their brand and ROI.

Fourth, while employee-hotel contract agreements surely have stipulations covering safety/security issues, these contracts still might not fully exonerate hotels from employee liability situations. This sexual assault case could easily translate to a legal precedent in an active shooter or terrorist situation, which are more common today than in decades past. Accordingly, hotels should review their liabilities policies with regard to their employees and insure that duty of care is a top priority.

Sources and further reading:

Hawaii Hotel Employee Sues over Ignored Assault Complaint,” The Insurance Journal, 15 August 2016.

Hyatt Worker Says Hotel Ignored Assault by Royal,” Courthousenews.com, 12 August 2016.

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