Erin Andrews to sue the Marriott and Ramada hotels?

I haven’t had much to say on the whole Erin Andrews tumult but I thought this was interesting — and disturbing that the hotels let the guy specifically request a room next to Andrews:

On Friday, the FBI arrested 48-year-old Michael David Barrett and charged him with secretly taping ESPN sports reporter Erin Andrews in the nude and posting the videos on the Internet. Andrews’ attorneys, Marshall B. Grossman and Daniel Alberstone of Bingham McCutchen, quickly issued a statement praising the FBI and the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles for making the arrest — and revealing that the Bingham attorneys and the private investigation firm Kroll Inc. played key roles in the investigation.

But Grossman was not so kind toward the hotel where the filming took place. He criticized management at the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University for booking Barrett into the room adjacent to Andrews and questioned the hotel’s attention to privacy and security. “One can’t pass this off to simple ignorance,” Grossman said.

Indeed, judging by the FBI’s affidavit, the actions by the Marriott are inexcusable. The affidavit says that Barrett filmed all but one of the videos at the Marriott, with the other filmed at the Ramada Conference Center in Milwaukee. What is most shocking is how Barrett was able to secure his room in the Marriott next to Andrews: He simply asked. The hotel’s reservations computer showed his request as, “GST RQST TO RM NXT TO [Andrews].” To make matters worse, both rooms were situated in an alcove off the main hallway. That made it easier for Barrett to hack the peephole in a manner that allowed him to film inside.

In Milwaukee, Barrett allegedly called 14 hotels to find out where Andrews would be staying. When he found out she would be at the Radisson, he booked a room and hacked the peephole of Andrews’ room in the same way he had done at the Marriott.

All of this adds up to a potential lawsuit, suggests John A. Day at the blog Day on Torts. Start with the question of how Barrett was able to identify Andrews’ room, when “most hotels will not give anyone, even an alleged spouse, the room number of a guest.” Add in the questions of how Barrett was able to secure a room right next door to Andrews and how he was able to modify the peephole without anyone noticing, and “one would think alarms would have been sounding at Marriott,” Day says.

Hotels have a responsibility to make their premises reasonably safe for their guests. This includes the responsibility to exercise reasonable care to protect the privacy of their guests. As more of the facts are released for public consumption, we will learn if Marriott did what Erin Andrews had a right to expect.

Based on news reports, Marriott’s only response so far has been a prepared statement that said, “The security and privacy of our guests is a priority.” I suspect Andrews’ attorneys at Bingham McCutchen will be looking for something more than that out of these two hotels.

  • Apdirtybird

    I’ll tell you exactly how this happened, you bribe the front desk night person.

    They’re hourly workers and don’t make a ton of money. Possibly ESPN treats them like crap, or they simply have no idea who Erin Andrews is.

    Stalker is nice, it’s the overnight desk clerk who has 8 hours of 9pm until 5am in front of them in the middle of nowhere, he slips them a hundred while making small talk about how he is in town for the “big game,” thinks someone is staying there that is kinda famous, would like a room near them to hopefully bump into them and get an autograph, etc.

    It’s not that hotels allow it, in fact I bet they have explicit instructions NOT to allow it, but if a guy can make a quick $100-$200 (when their weekly pay check is only $500) by giving out a room number, he’s going to do it. But now he loses his job for breaking hotel policy, unconsciously helping the stalker, and is probably out of the hotel industry (probably rightly so) for it.

    But let’s not act as if we can’t possibly fathom how this could happen.

  • God bless this young man and it actually helped boost ESPN ratings.

  • Rob
  • Homyrrh

    @ Rob,

    “In a 2003 information security survey, 90% of office workers gave researchers what they claimed was their password in answer to a survey question in exchange for a cheap pen. Similar surveys in later years obtained similar results using chocolates and other cheap lures, although they made no attempt to validate the passwords.”

    How relieving.

    @ dirtybird,

    Sounds very plausible…

    @ Chris,

    …but does that make the employee AND/or the hotel liable?

  • beermotor

    Intrusion on seclusion would be the proper tort for the videographer; the hotel probably would be subject to a standard simple negligence claim for breaching their duty to protect their clients’ privacy. No way that goes to trial, of course – Chris is right, Bingham’s gonna wrangle some $$$ outta Marriott. Andrews has to figure a way to pay the attorneys anyway, not like videographer is going to have bazillions of dollars.

  • beermotor

    Oh yeah and there’s not much difference between employee and/or hotel. Attorneys will certainly go after hotel over employee (respondeat superior). Hotel will fire employee, of course.

  • chris (not brown)

    I doubt the bribery theory. If the employee took a bribe to do it because he knew it was normally against hotel policy, why would he turn around and put a note in the reservation that said “guest requested room next to so-and-so?” You’d think he’d try and sneak it through as surreptitiously as possible,

  • Patrick

    There actually could be a very significant difference between an employee of the hotel and the hotel itself. If the hotel has articulated policies on not giving out guest information, and those policies are routinely articulated to hotel staff, then the hotel could argue that any hotel employee who provided anyone Andrews’ guest information was acting beyond the scope of their employment, meaning the hotel would not be liable.

    It’s not necessarily a winning argument, but an employee’s misbehavior (particular if it’s criminal) won’t automatically give rise to liability on the employer’s part.

  • beermotor

    You are correct re: scope of employment; but I don’t think that is a winning argument. Seems like they would cast it here as a purely negligent act: employee breaches client’s privacy, without realizing that defendant was going to go hack the peephole and video her through it. Causation is clear, at least to any jury of Jimmies and Joes (tee hee).

  • Chris

    So funny that the way in which Chris writes it makes it sound SOOO ominous.

    “What is most shocking is how Barrett was able to secure his room in the Marriott next to Andrews: He simply asked.”

    Ummm yeah, thats what ANYONE does to get a room next to someone else, they ASK. I would say ‘I need to get my room adjacent to My COWORKER Erin Andrews’, or ‘I need my room next to my sister Erin Andrews’, or My friend Erin Andrews is staying at the hotel too, can I get my room next to hers’. If there is an Erin Andrews actually booked there, and I was demonstrating that I already had knowledge of that, why would the hotel reservation agent distrust that?

    None of this is breaching privacy. The hotel didn’t release a name. Why do you think celebrities DON’T check in using their real names? And I doubt Erin Andrews will ever check into a hotel without using a Pseudonym from no on either.