In the Media

Dr. Olivarius contributes to Law360’s review of trends to watch in the hospitality space


Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Claims Weigh On Hospitality

Women’s rights attorney Ann Olivarius of McAllister Olivarius expects the hospitality industry to continue to bear the brunt of harassment and discrimination suits in 2024. Recent federal data shows the hospitality sector is the leading target for enforcement by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2024-2028 emphasizes the need for expanding protections for vulnerable and underserved workers, Olivarius said.

These include temporary workers, older workers, individuals employed in low-wage jobs and people with limited literacy or English proficiency, “all of whom are likely to be found in the hospitality industry,” according to Olivarius.

“There is also a range of city and state laws that will be of interest to the industry,” she said. “For example, the New York City Council recently passed a bill prohibiting employers from considering candidates’ height or weight when making employment decisions. Such considerations are routine in the hospitality sector, so we may see some fallout there.”

Olivarius said around two-thirds of positions in the restaurant industry are filled by women, but only around a third of managers are female. In addition, she said, approximately a third of EEOC claims for sexual harassment are made by women in the restaurant industry, even though those jobs represent just a small fraction of the work done by women in the U.S.

“Employees in the hospitality sector tend to come from vulnerable demographics and frequently rely on tips to survive,” she said. “They work in an environment where alcohol is consumed by both staff and customers, and where staff churn is high. This makes it difficult for management to effectively oversee staff, while also encouraging staff and management to overlook certain forms of misconduct as ‘part of the job.’ Staff are under intense pressure not to complain or are encouraged to subject themselves to customer objectification to make tips.”

Turning to the use of anti-trafficking laws to bring claims against hotels and other businesses, Olivarius said there has been an uptick in filings invoking the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and she expects this to continue in the coming year.