A recent class action lawsuit out of Arizona provides another example why companies are right to be wary about voluntarily providing information to law enforcement, even when there is no clear statutory bar on doing so. In Jane V. v. Motel 6, plaintiffs alleged that Motel 6’s policy and practice of disclosing registration information about Latino guests to ICE agents was racially discriminatory, unconstitutional, and in violation of privacy and consumer rights. The hotel chain agreed to pay up to $7.6 million to settle these claims, and committed to impose additional internal controls to protect customer information and inject corporate legal oversight in cases where law enforcement is requesting information.
“…less than 24 hours after checking in, Latino families had ICE agents at their door, asking for documentation proving immigration status.”
The plaintiffs alleged egregious behavior on the part of Motel 6 employees. In many instances, less than 24 hours after checking in, Latino families had ICE agents at their door, asking for documentation proving immigration status. According to the complaint, in most instances officers entered hotel rooms of Latino guests in the early hours of the morning after checking in the day before, and already knew the names and some biographical information about the guests, information they could have only obtained from Motel 6 staff. Adults were often questioned and detained in front of their children, and multiple guests were arrested on the spot without a warrant.
While the discriminatory overtones surely motivated Motel 6 to resolve the case, this settlement serves as another good reminder to companies that providing customer data to law enforcement in the absence of lawful process potentially exposes the company to civil liability, particularly if, as in this case, the cooperation is applied inconsistently or in a discriminatory manner.