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Women-only hotel floor ruled illegal, discriminatory

Bella Sky Hotel
Source: Bella Sky Hotel
Bella Sky Hotel

An anti-discrimination ruling by a Danish court may put a crimp in a trend toward women-only hotel floors that offer extra security along with amenities such as large hair driers, complimentary nylons and extra dress hangers.

"We had no idea this product could be remotely illegal," Allan Agerholm, CEO of the company that owns Bella Sky Hotel, told CNBC. "It is a business product we created to differentiate our hotel from others. This is a petty case that should have never been brought. It detracts from real discrimination issues happening in our society."

On Friday, a court ruled that even though the hotel had two ladies-style rooms elsewhere in the hotel bookable by men, the women's-only floor was indeed discriminatory. The hotel has opted to keep the room setups, but open them to anyone.

"If for some reason a male guest should find it interesting to stay there in the pink environment, they are welcome to do so," said Agerholm.

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When the 812-room, two-tower hotel opened in spring 2011, the 20 upgraded rooms on the secure-access "Bella Donna" floor were set aside for women only, with feminine touches and amenities ranging from large dressing mirrors to a minibar stocked with smoothies, wine and high quality chocolate.

Rooms on the Bella Donna floor have an upgrade fee of about $28, with occupancy there running slighter higher than the rest of the hotel, said Agerholm.

Shortly after the hotel opened, two men complained about the women-only floor to the Danish Board of Equal Treatment, which ruled the floor was gender discriminatory and illegal. Because the board had no authority to sanction, Bella Sky kept the Bella Donna floor intact and appealed to the Eastern High Court in Copenhagen.

Bella Sky Hotel, Bella Donna Room
Source: Bella Sky Hotel
Bella Sky Hotel, Bella Donna Room

While not very common, some hotels in the United States and elsewhere continue to offer women-only floors, including the Hamilton Crowne Plaza in Washington, D.C., and the Crowne Plaza in Bloomington, Minn.

"Our ladies floor, where we charge a $20 premium, is usually 85 percent occupied or sold out Monday through Thursday and is very popular with female corporate travelers," Charlie LaMont, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Bloomington, told CNBC. "Some like the amenities, but for most, it's the security of the secure-access floor," he said.

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The 10 rooms on the 10th floor of the 127-room Ellis Hotel in downtown Atlanta are set aside for women. In addition to private-access entry, the rooms include upgraded amenities, slippers and use of curling iron and a flat iron.

The hotel charges an added fee of $20 for the rooms, "which are most popular with the female corporate traveler," said Tom LaVaccare, director of sales and marketing. "It's a privacy issue, not necessarily a security issue," he said, "but we're working on adding more amenities."

LaVacarre said no male customer has ever complained about being excluded but "if they wanted to be on a floor just for men, we could accommodate that."

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For several years, the Georgian Court Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia, has offered 18 Orchid Rooms on a "women-preferred" floor with amenities such as curling irons, flat irons, high-powered hair driers, upgraded Aveda products, satin-padded hangers, nylons and other items at no extra charge.

The rooms were so popular that the hotel recently added a second floor of rooms with the same amenities, and men aren't excluded from those floors, they rarely book there, General Manager Lisa Jackson said.

—By Harriet Baskas, special to CNBC.com. Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas. Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.

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