The hotel chain Motel 6 has agreed to pay $7.6 million to settle a class-action lawsuit after multiple Motel 6 locations gave guest lists to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Sharing those lists led to arrests and deportations of an as-yet-unknown number of hotel guests.
The settlement deal was tentatively reached in July, but details were not public until this week. The agreement, which still needs to be approved by a federal judge, calls for Motel 6 to pay money directly to affected guests and also to impose tighter controls over private information.
Motel 6 has acknowledged that guest lists were given to authorities but denied that senior management was aware of the practice. As of last fall, the company said it had called for all locations to stop sharing guest lists with ICE.
News of the practice first broke last September when the Phoenix New Times investigated two corporate-owned Motel 6 locations in Phoenix. One anonymous hotel clerk told the alt-weekly, "We send a report every morning to ICE — all the names of everybody that comes in ... we do the audit and we push a button and it sends it to ICE."
"With all of these cases we looked at, the person didn't have any outstanding warrant," Antonia Farzan, one of the New Times reporters, told NPR. "There weren't any complaints. There was no sign that they were violating other laws while they were staying at the motel.
"In other words, they weren't bothering anybody. They had paid to rent a room. So it's hard to see what problem it was causing for the motel to have them as a customer."
A few months later, officials in Washington state said that six Motel 6 locations in the Puget Sound region admitted to the same guest-list sharing practice, which violates consumer protection laws.
"The hotel turned over the guest list of everybody staying at the hotel. So thousands of individuals had their names turned over to ICE," Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson told NPR in January.
"And according to our interviews with employees at Motel 6, ICE agents would circle the names that looked Latino-sounding and ran those names through a database and then would detain individuals based on those random checks."
Washington state filed a lawsuit against Motel 6 that is still pending.
The new settlement deal would resolve a separate class-action lawsuit, filed in Phoenix in January on behalf of affected guests.
The settlement agreement doesn't include any admission of wrongdoing, and Motel 6 continues to deny that it had any illegal policies.
The tentative settlement deal includes payments to all customers who stayed at Motel 6 hotels and had their information shared with immigration authorities.
Anyone who had their information shared with no apparent repercussions would receive $50; anyone who was questioned by authorities as a result would receive $1,000; and anyone who was placed in deportation proceedings would receive "not less than $7,500."
The total payouts would be capped at $1 million, $1 million, and $5.6 million respectively.
The lawsuit was filed by MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
MALDEF and Motel 6 issued a joint statement, which said in part:
"Motel 6 fully recognizes the seriousness of the situation and accepts full responsibility for both compensating those who were harmed and taking the necessary steps to ensure that we protect the privacy of our guests.
"As part of the agreement, Motel 6 has implemented additional controls to protect private information and enhance corporate oversight in cases where law enforcement requests information, including when lawful requests are made."
Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of MALDEF, says it's important that there's a way "for those who were victims anywhere in the country to seek compensation."
But, he says, it's "more important [that] in the future Motel 6 will not engage in this conduct."
Motel 6 has said the sharing of the guest lists was "implemented at the local level" without senior management's knowledge.
Ferguson, the Washington state attorney general, was skeptical of that local-practice claim when he spoke to NPR in January.
"I asked my team to investigate. And we now know what ... Motel 6 said back in September  was not true," he said. "It's far more widespread than they allowed the public to believe."