Australian court says motel can't ban prostitute

August 8, 2012 - 7:37 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prostitutes have the right to work from motel rooms in an Australian state, a court said after finding the owner's refusal to rent to a sex worker was discriminatory.

The ruling in the northeastern state of Queensland has stunned hotel and motel owners, who thought they had a right to decide what sort of businesses were operating from their premises.

The prostitute, identified as G.K., had taken her discrimination case against the Drovers Rest Motel in the coal mining town of Moranbah to the Queensland state Civil and Administrative Tribunal after management refused to rent her a room.

The 3 1/2-star motel's lawyer, David Edwards, said Wednesday that the court notified him this week that it had upheld the prostitute's claim of discrimination. Edwards confirmed she is seeking damages, which The Australian newspaper reported to be 30,000 Australian dollars ($32,000).

The tribunal's reasons for its decision have not yet been made public. But prostitution is legal in Queensland, and discrimination based on lawful sexual activity is outlawed.

Prostitutes are flocking to Outback mining towns such as Moranbah, where they base themselves for short periods to cash in on an Australian mining boom.

Edwards said he was considering appealing the ruling.

Janelle Fawkes, chief executive of the Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, said the ruling was a major win for the prostitution industry throughout Australia.

"Accommodation discrimination is a major issue for sex workers, but it is not by any means the only form of systemic discrimination that sex workers experience," she said.

"The anti-discrimination legislation in Queensland is very clear that it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of lawful sexual activity, including sex work, so we appreciate the finding and believe it is a big win for sex workers throughout Australia because it sends a very clear message that this kind of systemic discrimination will not be tolerated," she said.

The owners of the Drovers Rest Motel declined to comment Wednesday.

The prostitute stayed at the motel 17 times in two years before the owners discovered in 2010 that she was bringing clients to her room. She was then banned from staying there.

She lost her original case last year, but appealed.

"Not everyone would choose to do the job I do, but it's not right that they can treat me like as second-class citizen," she told The Australian.

"They wanted me to go away, but I am a tenacious little terrier, and I would not give up," she said.

Richard Munro, chief executive of the Accommodation Association of Australia, a tourism industry lobby group, said the Queensland and Australian governments should consider changing laws to ensure that hotel and motel owners can decide what sort of businesses are being operated under their roofs.

"It's absolutely illogical," Munro said. "If a hairdresser decided to set up shop in the motel and started inviting people in to get their hair cut, I think the motel owner would have the right to say, 'Hang on, that's a different business operating out of my business.'"

"If a prostitute decided to start working out of a shopping mall, the owners would have something to say about it. There is some protection for the rights of the motel owner here," he said.

Munro said his group would seek legal advice after hearing the tribunal's reasons.

He questioned whether prostitution could be legally conducted in an environment such as a motel where there are minors.

He said a prostitute could attract customers late at night who could knock on the wrong door and disturb other guests.

"If the amenity of the guests is disturbed, owners should have the right to protect the overall guests' experience by removing people who are disturbing the peace," Munro said.