September 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio September 1998 Current Issue
September 1998 Jonathan HowePLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner


Ousting Unruly Attendees

When someone acts up, don't grin and bear it; have him evicted

Some meetings have their "superstars" -- those who throw furniture through windows, rip the carpeting in their rooms, add a few personal touches to the artwork on the walls or abuse fellow guests.

It doesn't take long before such actions reach the ears of the meeting planner. After the embarrassment and outrage subside, what should you do? What can you do?

First, realize that people who enter a public place such as a hotel or restaurant have a limited privilege to be there. While they may lawfully enter, they are required to act in accordance with properly constituted rules and regulations, including basic principles of decorum.


A case involving a young woman and her male escort put that premise to the test. Having left a dance at a fraternity house, they went to a cafeteria, made their selections, paid the cashier and began to eat. The restaurant manager approached the table and ordered the couple out of the premises. Why? The young woman was not wearing shoes.

While there was no sign to that effect, the manager informed the woman that not wearing shoes was in violation of the restaurant's service policy. Her response: "Will you please go to hell?" The manager returned with a police officer and once again asked her to leave. She responded that only after eating would she depart. The police officer stated that unless she left she would be arrested for unlawful entry. She got up from the table and moved toward the door, but struggled with the police officer as he attempted to move her out.

Thus, she became a guest of the local constabulary at its women's detention center, fingerprinted, photographed and put in a police lineup. The next day she was released and charges were dismissed. She sued the restaurant for all kinds of things, including unlawful detainment. In dismissing the lawsuit, the court held that the restaurant had the right to arbitrarily refuse service. Furthermore, the court held that any public accommodation had the right to refuse service to anyone who was not "quiet and orderly."


For the planners, this implies the right to deny an unruly attendee the opportunity to participate further in the meeting.

The law technically authorizes the facility, not the meeting planner, to take appropriate action. But the planner should, in cooperation with the facility's security or local law enforcement agency, take the necessary steps to rid the meeting of a disorderly attendee. In other words, don't take it upon yourself to usher the person out the door, but request that security or the police be responsible for doing so.

Recently a client faced a situation in which admission to its trade show was limited. A representative of an exhibitor attempted to enter by breaking through the exhibit hall door. He was subsequently tackled by the local security guard and placed under arrest. The charges were dropped, but the meeting planner faced an outraged exhibitor. The planner stood by the rules. Eventually, the exhibitor apologized and acknowledged the rules were important and the planner should and did enforce them for everyone's benefit -- but only after legal counsel on behalf of the show sponsor became involved.


We don't often think about this kind of "what if" at contract time, but it's a good idea to include a clause that stipulates procedures for addressing bad conduct matters. It should state that if the facility takes action without your consent, it will hold you harmless. And, of course, be sure you include the right to eject obnoxious or offending individuals as part of overall procedures.

Exhibitor contracts should provide for the unbridled right of the sponsor to evict people who don't meet the rules and regulations established for the event.

These steps won't make it any more pleasant to deal with a problem attendee, but they will allow the planner to protect others and let the show go on without fear of legal repercussions.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law.

E-mail your concern to and look for expert advice in a future edition of this M&C column. We regret all questions cannot be answered.

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