Motel wins anti-discrimination case against sex worker in “win for business and common sense”

A court has found a Queensland motel did not breach anti-discrimination laws when it refused to allow a sex worker to book a room.

The Queensland Court of Appeal ruled the owners of the Drovers Rest Motel in Moranbah, Evan and Joan Hartley, had the right to stop its rooms being used for prostitution.

Joan Hartley told the sex worker, known as ‘GK’, who had stayed at the motel for prostitution purposes over the previous two years, she would have to stay elsewhere in the future.

GK had been earning $2000 a day during sporadic visits to Drovers Rest and took her case to the discrimination tribunal in 2011.

She lost at first, then last year a Queensland court found the Hartleys breached the Anti-Discrimination Act by denying a legal sex worker a room. But the Court of Appeal has now overturned that decision.

Evan Hartley told SmartCompany the case was not just for themselves.

“It’s for the whole hospitality industry around Australia, somebody had to take a stance and it just happened to be us,” he says.

“It was the first time anybody had stood up to them, as prostitutes were taking hoteliers to the discrimination tribunal where no legal representation was allowed and so hoteliers were being told they were guilty and how much compensation they had to pay.”

Hartley says prostitution harms accommodation businesses by lowering both occupancy rates and property values, unless an upfront disclosure requirement is put in place.

He estimates the case cost $50,000 in legal fees and the couple’s solicitor is now working on a claim for the costs incurred, but Hartley does not expect he will recoup all the fees.

“The stress that it caused my wife and I could never be measured, to have to go to the Supreme Court is quite a dramatic experience and one I hope I never have to do again,” he says.

Queensland’s Attorney-General said a Court of Appeal decision allowing a Moranbah motel’s appeal against a sex worker is “a win for business and common sense”.

“Common sense prevailed today with the Court of Appeal setting aside that Queensland Civil and Administrative Appeal decision,” Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie told The Australian.

He said he had joined the motel owners’ fight in the Court of Appeal, as a “friend of the court”, because he supported business owners’ ability to decide what does or does not occur on their premises.

The Queensland state government recently amended the Anti-Discrimination Act to allow hotel and motel operators to refuse sex workers accommodation or evict them if they had reasonable belief they were operating a business from their premises.

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