|By John Hopkins, The Virginian-Pilot,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 7, 2006 - CHESAPEAKE -- Karen B. Nelligan, a visitor here last year, wanted a nonsmoking room in a smoke-free area of an extended-stay Greenbrier hotel.
What the Rhode Island woman said she got, however, was a smoke-induced headache, sickness and hostility from a hotel employee who got her fired.
In the end, three police officers came to instruct Nelligan to vacate the hotel because her constant complaints were creating a nuisance, according to a lawsuit filed recently in Chesapeake Circuit Court.
The suit, filed by Nelligan, names the employee, who no longer works at the hotel , and LTD Management Co. Inc., owner of Towneplace Suites by Marriott at 2000 Old Greenbrier Road. The suit seeks $600,000 in compensatory damages, $100,000 in punitive damages, interest, court costs and attorney's fees.
Thomas Marder, vice president of corporate relations for Marriott International Inc., said the company is not familiar with the facts of the dispute.
Nelligan was in town on business early last year. She checked into the hotel Feb. 20 and requested the nonsmoking room, advising hotel staff that she was allergic to cigarette smoke, said her attorney LeRon W. Gilchrist.
The next day, she woke up "feeling sick and suffering from a severe headache," and on Feb. 22, she was awakened by a strong smell of cigarette smoke, the suit states.
Nelligan alleges she suffered headaches, nausea and vomiting during her stay and at one point asked a guest in an adjacent room whether the guest was smoking. The guest was, she said.
"That's how all of this began," Gilchrist said. "From her perspective, she was promised a nonsmoking room. When she started to have problems because of the smell of smoke, she brought this to the attention of the hotel staff, and all this happened as a result."
Nelligan headed to the front desk to get a different room, but the hotel employee locked the lobby door and refused to help her, according to the suit. Police were called to ask her to leave because "she was creating a nuisance by constantly complaining about the smell of cigarette smoke in her room," the suit says.
She ended up staying in a nearby hotel, an action that should have ended the dispute. Days later, however, Nelligan learned she had been fired from her job after the hotel staffer sent a "false and defamatory" memo to her employer, according to the suit.
Nelligan's temporary lodging in Chesapeake was financed by her employer, General Dynamics, Electric Boat of Groton, Conn., after she was selected to take part in a three-year assignment at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
The memo sent to her employer portrayed Nelligan as an out-of-control hotel guest who at one point demanded a new room because her suite was "facing a tower that was generating electricity and it was affecting her brain," according to the suit.
It accused her of "kicking and banging on doors" at the hotel and threatening to punch the hotel employee and another hotel guest in the face, according to the lawsuit. It also accused her of threatening to commit a criminal act and of damaging hotel property, Gilchrist said.
Nelligan, an employee for 25 years, was terminated Feb. 28. She could not be reached for comment.
"She doesn't strike me, physically or emotionally, as someone who would do anything like that," Gilchrist said.
Reach John Hopkins at (757) 222-5221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 2006, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.
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