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Pierre Hotel to Hand Out Panic Buttons To Maids

By DNAinfo Staff on May 31, 2011 6:44pm  | Updated on June 1, 2011 6:21am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MIDTOWN — The Pierre Hotel decided Tuesday it would hand out panic alarms to housekeepers after the latest incident of alleged sexual abuse involving guests.

The swank hotel acted after Egyptian businessman Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar was charged Monday with sexual abuse. He allegedly attacked a 44-year-old maid who came to his room to deliver a box of tissues Sunday evening, sources said.

The incident was not reported until Monday morning and the supervisor on duty at the time was suspended amid questions as to why police were not called.

The alleged attack comes just two weeks after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, was charged with brutally assaulting a maid in Midtown's Sofitel hotel.

Another housekeeper at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square was also startled last week when she discovered a man hiding in the closet as she was cleaning an otherwise empty room, police said. The woman was not harmed in that case.

"There’s a very serious workplace safety problem for the workers," said State Assemblyman Rory Lancman, chair of the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, who has introduced legislation that would force hotels to equip housekeeping staff entering rooms with "panic alert" devices in case of emergencies.

"You could go to any hotel in the City of New York and they will all have their stories of being inappropriately touched or propositioned," Lancman said, adding the recent incidents "happen frequently enough and are serious enough" to warrant immediate action.

Even without legislation, hotels are taking heightened efforts to prevent additional headlines.

The Pierre also plans to provide additional sexual harassment training to room attendants and managers and has instructed its human resources department to meet with each employee individually to discuss questions and concerns.

Staff have also been instructed to leave rooms immediately if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe and to report any incidents directly to supervisors.

"The Pierre has a zero tolerance for inappropriate guest behavior," the hotel said in a statement, adding that, "We take all complaints very seriously and investigate thoroughly."

At the Sofitel Hotel in Midtown, management has been more tight-lipped about possible changes. It did confirm that female staffers have been permitted to replace their once-mandatory "apron-style dress[es]" for trousers and tunics.

Spokeswoman Stacy Royal declined to comment on whether the hotel would be implementing other changes, such as alert devices, citing the ongoing investigation.

At the Marriott Marquis, staff said the recent incidents have put everyone on heightened alert.

"Yes, there’s a heightened sense of awareness," spokeswoman Kathleen Duffy said. But she said that the hotel has not changed its safety protocols, which are constantly under review.

The Hotel Association of New York City, which represents owners and managers, held off on endorsing the bill.

"We look forward to meeting with Assemblyman Lancman, reviewing his proposal, and determining the best course of action to protect hotel workers," president and CEO Joseph Spinnato said in a statement.

Lancman said that, regardless of the outcome of the legislation, he hopes the recent incidents and heightened media scrutiny will encourage housekeeping staff, who are often first-generation immigrants with limited English, to come forward if anything ever happens to them.

"I hope that housekeepers see the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case is being taken very seriously," he said. "Hopefully others will feel comfortable reporting these incidents when they occur."

A spokesman for the hotel workers' union did not respond to calls for comment.