Airbnb Defeats Race Discrimination Claims–Harrington v. Airbnb

This is a class action lawsuit against Airbnb over racial discrimination. The lead plaintiff has never been an Airbnb member but requested to join if Airbnb ceased “implementation of its policies that discriminate against African-Americans and that allow hosts to discriminate against African-Americans”. These policies apparently include “(1) [Airbnb’s vendors’] access to guests’ names and photographs, which in turn give clues as to those guests’ immutable characteristics; (2) their ability to receive booking requests only from prospective guests whose profile includes a photograph; and (3) their ability to deny booking requests from guests whose profile includes a photograph and full name.”

The magistrate judge (Judge Youlee Yim You, whose name sounds like an Abbott-and-Costello routine in the making) recommended dismissing the case because the statute requires that plaintiffs have actually suffered discrimination, and the class members by definition never suffered such discrimination because they never joined Airbnb at all.

The supervising judge approved the magistrate’s report. The plaintiff explained that she had actually suffered discrimination because Airbnb didn’t change its policies (in response to her demand) to reduce discrimination. She analogizes her situation to a retail store with a window sign saying African-Americans aren’t welcome, or a retail bank that prohibits African-Americans from wearing sunglasses in the premises. The court says that even if true, her allegations don’t show discriminatory intent as required by the statute. Similarly, the hypothetical analogies are distinguishable because they are intentionally discriminatory policies. At most, the plaintiff has alleged discriminatory effect, and that’s not enough for the statute.

Irrespective of this case, there have been troubling reports that racial discrimination has been a problem on Airbnb, but I’m hoping by now that Airbnb already has taken significant steps to reduce it.

Case citation: Harrington v. Airbnb, Inc., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62651 (D. Or. April 13, 2018). Magistrate report.