Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Marriott Blames Insurance Co. for 'Blame the Victim' Rape Defense, Tells It to Stop

According to an update at The Advocate on the Marriott rape case, the Stamford Marriott in Connecticut has withdrawn its offensive defense in the lawsuit filed against it by a mother raped in its parking garage. In fact, Marriott International, Inc. says it's not the company behind the defense, that its insurance company's attorneys filed the legal motion.

Across the web an outcry arose as news spread of a "blame the victim" defense submitted to the court that bore Marriott's name. I wrote about the case at BlogHer.com, "Raped at the Marriott in front of Your Todders? Too Bad, Slacker." Most of the comments on the post indicated a desire to boycott the hotel.

A spokesperson for Marriott International said that lawyers for the hotel's insurance company and companies associated with securing the parking garage filed the "special defense" that said the mother who was raped in front of her 5-year-old and 3-year-old had "failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities." The spokesperson claims that when Marriott heard about it weeks ago, before the public protest, it asked the insurance company to withdraw the defense. In addition, the hotel has expressed "distress" at how The Advocate covered the story last Friday.

However, Marriott's statement to The Advocate on Friday said nothing of an insurance company being behind the court papers. Furthermore, a hotel manager gave "no comment" while the hotel's attorney could not be reached. Really, it was like the perfect PR storm.
(Marc) Kurzman (a Marriott rep.) said the Stamford Marriott staff are "surprised and distressed" by The Advocate's coverage of the lawsuit filed by the victim. He said there is a "mistaken belief that the Marriott's ownership and management was somehow responsible for the 'blame the victim' defense asserted in the legal papers."

Marriott International, Inc., issued a statement last week saying it could not comment on the defenses, and that "Marriott is profoundly sorry that such a terrible thing happened to the victim of this violent crime. And unfortunately this situation has created a mistaken impression that Marriott lacks respect and concern for Ms. Doe or other victims of violent crime." The woman is identified only as Jane Doe in court papers.

The statement said the hotel regretted the 2006 crime.

"This incident, no matter how tragic and unfortunate, should not in any way affect the reputation and credibility of our hotel." (The Advocate)
Across the Web this Marriott story was viewed as an "epic fail," a public relations disaster.

Taking the company at its word, that the defense came from an insurance company and not Marriott's actual staff, I responded to the Josh Kirshner, who posted a link to the update on my BlogHer post by saying the following:
That's Good News that Marriott Has Withdrawn the Defense

Thank you for the heads up. I couldn't figure out how Marriott let that slip through, but if it was the insurance company that did it, then I hope Marriott has some strong language with it about legal cases in the future, defense language used, and perhaps a run by its public relations department before it moves forward with offensive legal rhetoric.

I see in The Advocate's updated story that Marriott "had requested the claim be withdrawn weeks ago." Shame on the insurance company for not heeding the wishes of the hotel if that is so. If this is true, then I feel better that Marriott told them to withdraw the claim before the public outcry, but I wonder why Marriott didn't say that it wanted the defense withdrawn in the statement it released Friday. I guess the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing?

This case reminds me of the Dollar Tree case last year in which a racist unaffiliated with the store stabbed to death a black female Dollar Tree employee. He'd decided to kill the first black person he saw and that person happened to be stocking shelves at the store.

The story became a greater tragedy when the store's insurance company denied paying the life insurace claim to the dead employees 11-year old son reasoning that because the worker was black and the crime was racially motivated, then it was a personal connection and not a work connection that caused her death.

People boycotted Dollar Tree, bloggers wrote their outrage, and most people saw it as a case of a worker being murdered on the job by a deranged stranger but the company trying to wiggle out of paying for the most odious reason, "her skin color was the reason she was killed," as though she would have come across this man who killed her whether she was working at the Dollar Tree or not.

Dollar Tree said it was only doing what the insurance company said it should do, apologized, and compensated the son. The reversal was attributed to Internet social media and other public pressure.

Too bad we don't know the name of Marriott's insurance company. Its attorneys deserve some public heat, but I'll suppose they've heard an earful from Marriott International. Wish I could've been a fly on the wall.

Nordette Adams is a BlogHer CE & you can find her other stuff through Her 411.

While Marriott says it asked for the defense to be withdrawn weeks ago before the public outrage surfaced, which included a petition from MomsRising that quickly accumulated signatures this weekend, I'm sure the anger and threats to boycott the hotel chain expedited the corporation's public disapproval of such a shameful defense.

I love Residence Inns by Marriott. Glad I don't have to keep my boycott on.


Anita Sarah Jackson said...

Thanks so much for mentioning the MomsRising petition, and for providing an update on this terrible situation. Much appreciated.


le0pard13 said...

After signing the petition, I thought Marriott Int'l would attempt pull itself away from the fire - and blaming others would be the course (since they in no way would ever do something so callous and mean-spirited). I guess I'm too cynical in my old age. I think that's because MI has their own set of attorneys who are paid to watch out for them. You can bet they were being kept abreast of all matters of litigation - especially one as sensitive as this. No matter if it was the insurance company's law firm that came up with that (ahem) brilliant defense, MI knew about it before the papers were filed [or MI has the most inept in-house attorneys this side of Dollar Tree's].

I'd bet real $ their own PR dept, early on, advised settling this out-of-court (and out-of-sight) and were over ruled by sr. MI mgmt. They rolled the dice in hoping they could intimidate the woman into taking a low-ball settlement. They were called, they folded and took the it's not us, it's the lawyers defense once this took off on the inter-tubes. Sorry, but I don't buy their statements because (1) it's a classic and typical PR-crafted scenario taylor made to let MI off the hook (in the eyes of the public/customers), and (2) none of it is under oath (meaning they can say anything to make their case in public opinion). Marriott Int'l is on the hook for this, and that's where it should be. Thanks for following up on this case, Nordette.