|*Note: this situation reaches its final resolution in part 2, a year later.|
I was a little dubious about this convention in the first place, as it's a
long haul for me and it had moved back to downtown inner-harbor Baltimore
from its long-standing residency up in the burbs at Hunt Valley.
I had promised myself long ago that I wouldn't bother with the con if it
was in town due to numerous logistical and parking problems.
But this was its fiftieth year, sort of a special occasion, they'd landed
*George R. R. Martin* as the guest of honor so everything was taking
on a Game of Thrones theme, and besides, I was supplying most of the
tech production intercom system
for their main presentation space.
The technical director also as much as assured me that any potential
issues about bare feet had been taken care of at the *contractual* level
with the hotel, and we shouldn't have any problems in that area.
So I decided what the heck, nice little spring roadtrip.
What we found when we got there was the complete opposite. I pulled up to the loading dock and discovered that the convention personnel had already been so thoroughly cowed and threatened by the hotel security and operations staff that *our own co-workers* were telling us to put shoes on right then and there or we'd get kicked out. Not the best way to start what I thought would be a productive weekend, and I and my co-traveler only made it through less than a day of setup work and decided to simply bail out early and let the whole steaming clusterfuck stew in its own juice. I've never done that with a con before, and it was pretty upsetting to reach my tolerance limit like that. But we spent the rest of that Memorial Day weekend banging around interesting little byways of northeastern Pennsylvania instead, and it was *so* much more peaceful.
The situation with the hotel had gotten even worse in our absence and it seemed hopeless to reason with them, but I decided to try anyway and researched up the appropriate contact information for Marriott Corporate which Renaissance is a branch of. This is what I then emailed to their customer service department, not expecting to receive anything at all in return but at least I could say I was doing my own due diligence on incident followup.
Date: Thu, 2 Jun 2016 11:54:21 To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Baltimore incident I would like to lodge a formal complaint against your property at Renaissance HarborPlace, in Baltimore. I was there for an event scheduled through this past Memorial Day weekend, May 26 - 30 2016, to help with its technical setup and operations. The event was a science fiction convention named Balticon, in fact its fiftieth year in existence, put on by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS). This was its first year at this particular hotel property, and may well be the last. Within mere minutes of arriving to unload gear and begin building our technical infrastructure, I and several of my colleagues were harassed by the hotel security staff for not wearing shoes. Some number of my crew generally work without shoes for an extensive set of positive reasons, including but not limited to increased agility, comfort, *safety*, and situational awareness. While perhaps a bit unusual in the relevant activities, it is our personal right and freedom to enjoy and presents no unacceptable risk or concern to either ourselves or the venues we occupy. The many health *benefits* of going barefoot are also well known. We accept full responsibility for our own care and safety, and at that level it is not up to any other entity to dictate to us about it either way. The harassment continued and escalated through that evening, even after our staff offered a temporary compromise by confining our activities to our assigned function space and slipping on shoes to go elsewhere on the property. The only shoes I had with me were effectively light-duty slippers which would cause me to be significantly *less* surefooted and safe while working, and thus were not a viable option. This was also true of our other staff, who only had open-toe sandals and other seasonally-appropriate footgear on hand. Ultimately I was unable to continue working the convention setup, and wound up simply leaving the entire event prematurely because it seemed like the only reasonable option left open to me. Thus, your staff actively interfered with and hindered the ability of the event to prepare properly. This constitutes breach of contract, as BSFS had scheduled and paid for use of that space in a manner of their choosing for the entire weekend. The Safety/Security staff at the property apparently does have some kind of policy document that addresses this, or at least produced some facsimile thereof the next morning which for all we know could have been composed the night before as a means to aid and abet the discrimination we were victim to. We were not apprised of any of this in advance, and there is no statement to any similar effect on the hotel's website or other publicly viewable information. Given that such "policies" are not supported by any external legal statements or precedent, we cannot accept them as valid and certainly not as grounds to impede our activities performed under the tight time constraints we were facing. Going barefoot is a personal choice, like with clothing or hairstyles, and nobody on a hotel staff has any right to bully its visitors and discriminate against them for those personal choices. There is no social mandate about it one way or the other, and it has little or nothing to do with individual safety especially for more experienced people. There are no public laws, statutes, or regulations against it in any state, including in situations traditionally thought of otherwise such as food establishments or driving a vehicle. NONE. Please visit the website at barefooters.org and research this for yourselves. OSHA guidelines only cover direct employees, and only in job environments where clear and present foot hazards exist. Our event staff are all volunteers and thus not affected by OSHA to begin with, and hotel ballrooms and public spaces are some of the most benign environments which are completely appropriate for bare feet. Does your property management try to mandate wearing of gloves or protective eye and headgear for all guests and event workers? Then why should feet be regarded as somehow special? I assure you, they're not. We were also made aware of strong evidence that the security staff at this facility has taken similarly intrusive actions with other groups, such as invading and going after members of wedding parties who might be enjoying themselves on the dance floor. That is *beyond* offensive. If I was one of such newlyweds or someone helping organize an event like that, I would regard that kind of nonsense as your staff actively ruining and sabotaging my special day. If someone within the hotel staff is concerned over the property getting sued for something, they should worry far more about contractual violations of this sort than someone complaining because they happened to injure themselves due to their own inattention. If this is a Marriott-wide policy, then I can assure you that I and some number of associates will be flat-out avoiding any of the Marriott branded properties as much as possible until such a short-sighted policy is rescinded and abolished throughout your infrastructure. A scathing review of our weekend's experience may also be readily findable on the internet -- not exactly the kind of publicity you need. Please escalate this issue and complaint to your highest levels until it reaches someone who understands why this is important. As a corporate entity you have no more right or cause to dictate personal choice about footwear as you would about tattoos, six-inch purple mohawk hairdos, or women in full hijab. It is all discrimination, plain and simple. Reflect upon what "renaissance" means -- the dawning of a new age of reason. My experience in Baltimore was entirely at odds with that; there was no reason at all on the part of the hotel staff. With a bit of thought and acquiescence toward what American freedom and personal comfort really mean, a more "barefoot-friendly" public presence could have Marriott and its subsidiaries viewed far more as a progressive, forward-thinking lodging business rather than the stodgy, backward and inflexibly hostile entity I had the misfortune of dealing with and simply fleeing from in the end.
I was somewhat astounded when Marriott not only responded, in less than 24 hours, but also forwarded the report to the Renaissance property in question. What came back was basically a form letter, but at least it was something:
Date: Thu, 2 Jun 2016 23:59:15 From: Customer Care <email@example.com> Subject: Message from Marriott Customer Care Hello. I am sorry your stay at Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel was not the Marriott experience you deserve. I shared the details you provided with the executive team at the hotel. They will take action and respond to you soon. I ask that you allow us three to five business days to resolve this issue. You can count on Marriott to improve your experience in the future. Safe travels, Rodney Bennett Marriott Customer Care ---- This communication contains information from Marriott International, Inc. that may be confidential. Except for personal use by the intended recipient, or as expressly authorized by the sender, any person who receives this information is prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, and/or using it. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately delete it and all copies, and promptly notify the sender. Nothing in this communication is intended to operate as an electronic signature under applicable law. ref:_00D37JC9y._500373H5Rx:ref [img src="http://marriottintl.my.salesforce.com/servlet/servlet.ImageServer? oid=00D380000FC2y&esid=01749300001Ycnx"]
Date: Fri, 3 Jun 2016 16:56:31 From: "Saleh, Pam" <Pam.Saleh@renaissancehotels.com> Subject: Renaissance Harborplace Hotel Thank you very much for taking the time to share your feedback. Our top concern is the safety of our guests and visitors in every area of the hotel. This includes making sure potential accidents are avoided. There is always a possibility of remnants of a broken glass, etc. that can cause injury. My apologies for any inconvenience. Please know we are looking out for everyone's wellbeing. Thank you again for contacting us. We truly appreciate and rely on your feedback. Sincerely, Pam PAMELA SALEH | RENAISSANCE HARBORPLACE HOTEL CUSTOMER CARE Renaissance Harborplace Hotel| 202 E. Pratt Street Baltimore, MD 21202 T 410-986-4802 Renaissance Hotels. Live Life to Discover. renhotels.com | facebook.com/renhotels| twitter.com/renhotels This communication contains information from Marriott International, Inc. that may be confidential. ( ... same boilerplate ... ) [http://mm1.lettermark.net/marriott_renaissance/lhead/RHR_Brand_Winter.gif] [http://mm1.lettermark.net/marriott/images/disclaimerText.gif]
But this seemed awfully noncommital with no hint that they were going to bend on the policy, so I responded directly to the Renaissance rep with some more ironclad logic to try and further my cause.
Date: Fri, 3 Jun 2016 14:20:25 To: "Saleh, Pam" <Pam.Saleh@renaissancehotels.com> Subject: Re: Renaissance Harborplace Hotel Yes, but safety with regard to things on the floor really is the individual's responsibility. I could just as easily trip over a badly placed chair, or someone else's luggage, or pinch my hand in a door, or in the contexts I was working that weekend I could simply fall off the loading dock! We all take some amount of risks in day-to-day life, and accept those, and where my feet go is my concern and my concern only just like any other part of my body. I've walked over bits of broken glass on numerous occasions without incident, because in that state it basically amounts to sand or small pebbles. It is NOT a problem, and clearly visible to anyone more concerned about it than myself. So are you going to keep that baseless and intrusive policy in place, or get rid of it? *Everyone* else I've copied on my complaint firmly believes that YOUR organization is 100% in the wrong. Please tell me you're not going to simply sweep this under the rug and do nothing to fix it, because it really needs to be. Thanx
At that point they all fell silent, so after another few days I decided to press the point one more time by responding to the main corporate address, CC the Renaissance rep, and take them mildly to task for being unresponsive. More blowback from the convention had also appeared in the meantime, so I figured I'd include some of that for their perusal so they could get an idea of just how bad things had gotten down there.
Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2016 12:44:53 To: Customer Care <firstname.lastname@example.org> Cc: Pam Saleh <Pam.Saleh@renaissancehotels.com> Subject: Re: Message from Marriott Customer Care [ ref:_00D37JC9y._500373H5Rx:ref ] Thanks for passing this situation/feedback on to the Renaissance in Baltimore. Pam Saleh [CCed here] from there did respond, albeit in a somewhat indeterminate manner that gives me no assurance that the unreasonable and intrusive policies there will be relaxed or removed. I followed up asking for positive indication that this would get taken care of, and Renaissance hasn't responded as of today. In the meantime, it has emerged that the Balticon event there had *numerous* problems with that hotel's security staff, relating to quite a number of issues besides a few barefoot guests. Please check these links for some of the event staff and community's take on it: http://file770.com/?p=29313 http://kradical.livejournal.com/3103391.html I would encourage you to work with the Renaissance staff and any other corporate policymakers to make sure this sort of thing never occurs again, which I would like to believe is in line with your customer experience goals. Again, please check the many resources at sites such as barefooters.org and barefootalliance.org to gain reassurance that there *are* no legal, safety, or liability concerns needed with regard to patrons who have clearly already made their own personal decisions, and that further adherence to ill-founded "rules" only renders Marriott and Renaissance less credible in the public view. This also has direct bearing on whether I choose to attend and/or help with the convention next year, if it returns to this property. My understanding is that they've entered into a multi-year contract. Thanks
From: "Saleh, Pam"
|"Live Life to Discriminate", more like. The saga continues to a relatively rapid conclusion in part 2, about a year later. I hope all the referenced participants are proud of themselves for such an epic screwup.|
Read more barefoot advocacy