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Investment banker sues over sex assault in hotel room

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An investment banker on a business trip sued Starwood Hotels chain on Monday, saying that a front desk clerk gave her room key to a drunken man who then assaulted her in bed.

Alison Fournier, a New York investment banker who now lives in Florida, was assaulted in her hotel room in Helsinki, Finland a year ago, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

Fournier was in bed in her room at the Hotel Kamp on her first work trip abroad on January 15, 2011, when she awoke to "someone climbing into her bed groping at her," the lawsuit said.

Fearing imminent rape, Fournier, then age 30, fled to the front desk clad in a bathrobe and screamed for help, only to be told by front desk staff "that the man was her husband," the suit said.

The T-shirt-wearing attacker, clearly intoxicated and claiming at 4 a.m. to be Fournier's husband who had locked himself out, was given a key to the room without any attempt at verification, the suit said.

Fournier's lawyer, Gloria Allred, said the assailant was an American staying at the hotel who had made overtures to Fournier earlier and been rebuffed.

Fournier went public on Monday with her lawsuit hoping to "warn other women who may be traveling alone of the danger that they may face," Allred said in a statement.

"The one place that they may feel safe (their hotel room) may in fact be the most dangerous place of all if their hotel fails to act responsibly to protect their guests," Allred said.

As a result of the incident, Fournier's "life unraveled," the suit said.

"She was unable to return to work as a banker, feeling unsafe in the most ordinary circumstances," the court documents said.

A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Business School, Fournier quit her high-six-figure-paying job as a vice president at an unnamed investment banking firm and left New York City to be nearer her family in Florida.

"Business travel is often a critical part of a successful career, and women should not have to fear traveling or wonder if they will be targets of violence when they are staying alone in a hotel," Fournier said in a statement on Monday.

Starwood said in a statement its policy is to ensure proper identification and verification before issuing a room key.

"We are taking this allegation seriously and are working with the hotel in question to understand the facts and any breach of security that may have contributed" to the event.

The suit seeks unspecified damages for gross negligence, economic loss, physical and emotional distress and pain and suffering.

The Hotel Kamp operates under Starwood's international Luxury Collection chain.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)