The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. will be required to pay $535,000 as part of a settlement relating to illegal disposal of hazardous waste at its eight California locations, including the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage.
The lawsuit, brought by seven district attorneys including Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, alleges that the Ritz-Carlton hotels illegally stored, transported and disposed of hazardous waste products such as batteries, aerosols, electronic devices, cleaning agents and “flammable, reactive, toxic, and corrosive materials.”
Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson John Hall confirmed in an email that the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage was specifically involved in the violations and noted that they go back to at least 2018. He said the violations were discovered through “waste audits” at the hotel.
“Such audits are done by going through a compactor and/or dumpster and looking for illegal items,” Hall said. “We did more than one waste audit and found evidence of illegal disposals at each one.”
As part of the judgement, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Kira Klatcho ordered the hotel company to pay Riverside County and its department of environmental health roughly $113,500 in civil penalties and cost reimbursements. That accounts for more than a quarter of such fees in the settlement despite the presence of only one Ritz-Carlton hotel in the county.
When asked about the outsized payments, Hall said the Riverside County District Attorney’s office “did a significant amount of the investigation and prosecution” and that “the evidence showed a significant number of violations in our county.”
In addition to $435,000 in civil penalties and cost reimbursements, the settlement requires the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. to pay $100,000 to fund projects furthering environmental enforcement in California.
Representatives of the Ritz-Carlton’s press office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the judgement.
Court documents list a litany of allegations related to the disposal of hazardous waste by the hotels in unauthorized locations and without required licenses, record-keeping, storage or staff training, among other violations. The documents don’t specifically note the location of each alleged violation but say they occurred at “some or all” of the company’s eight California hotels.
Ritz-Carlton representatives claimed in court documents that the hotel industry “faces unique challenges in achieving full compliance with the laws and regulations discussed” as a result of concerns relating to the privacy of guests, concerns regarding the health and safety of housekeeping staff and the “the unique individual behavior of hotel guests.”
Hall said the district attorney’s office didn’t have any information suggesting that management at the hotels were intentionally violating the law, but noted that as a “strict liability crime,” improper disposal and handling of hazardous waste is criminal regardless of people’s intentions.
“Therefore, the intent of merely placing the items into the trash or into the dumpster can be considered an intentional violation,” he added.
When asked about the relatively mundane nature of some of the waste materials listed, Hall noted that “Any items that are toxic, corrosive, reactive, or ignitable are considered hazardous in the state of California.”
A district attorney’s office release noted that Ritz-Carlton hotels have now put improved policies, procedures and training programs in place to properly manage hazardous waste and that such waste is now being properly documented and collected by state-registered haulers.
James B. Cutchin covers business in the Coachella Valley. Reach him at email@example.com.