Arizona Legislators Call for Hotel Worker Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 9/16/2014

A pair of Arizona lawmakers want to pass legislation that will keep registered sex offenders as far away as possible from the state's hotel industry. Katie Hobbs, a Democratic Senator from the Phoenix area, and T.J Shope, a Republican Representative from Coolidge, announced last week their plans to collaborate with the hotel industry to create new laws that will keep hotel guests safe. The primary weapon that Hobbs and Shope want to use to preserve safety in hotels? Thorough and mandatory employee background checks.

Hobbs and Shope were spurred toward action by a pair of incidents in the Mesa area in which a "high-level sex offender" was able to gain employment at two different hotel chains. The man used his position to sexually assault female guests at the hotels.

According to a report from The Arizona Republic, a local newspaper, the man in question worked as a night clerk at both a Best Western and a Marriott Fairfield in the Mesa, Arizona area. In both cases, the man used his position to identify women who were checking in alone. Later, he used the hotel master key to break into the locked rooms where these women were staying and rape them.

In the Republic article, the hotel employee is not named and has evidently not stood trial. The man was, however, a noted sex offender who had faced rape charges under similar circumstances in Illinois. Had either Best Western or Marriott done thorough background checks, they likely would have realized that they were looking at a predator and decided against hiring him. Both of the women who were raped by the hotel night clerk are seeking civil retribution against the hotel parent companies. Both companies have actually denied that the assaults ever took place, and both claim that they are not responsible for their franchisee or member hotels even if such hotels bear their brand.

Such is the problem that Hobbs and Shope are looking to address by calling for new background check legislation. It was a loophole in the system that allowed the night clerk rapist to repeatedly gain employment at Arizona hotels. According to the Republic Article, Kristen Jarnagin, the Senior VP of the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, says that is up to individual hotel brands and businesses to require employee background checks. But if the parent companies for those hotel brands aren't taking responsibility for their franchisees or requiring background check standards for their member hotels, then no one is holding the hotels responsible for customer safety.

Jarnagin did say, however, that she and her association would be happy and willing to work with Hobbs and Shope to draft background check legislation that would work for all parties. Jarnagin says that the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association has previously worked to spread awareness about human trafficking and that guest safety is the organization's number one priority.


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