Airbnb is a website that allows individuals to list their lodging for rent. Using a peer-to-peer accommodation model, other individuals looking for a place to stay can search for available rooms or entire houses, as an alternative to booking a hotel room. However, the website has recently come under fire for ignoring complaints of racial discrimination. Now a man in Maryland is filing a lawsuit against the popular website.
Airbnb began in 2008, in part to help renters afford their rent on expensive properties, and to provide additional lodging in saturated markets. Since that time, it has grown tremendously, with 1.5 million lodgings listed in 190 countries. While most users are renting out a room or an apartment, some listings include renting a room in a castle, or renting a private island. However, because Airbnb is relatively new, the renting accommodations model has not been tested under civil rights laws.
Gregory Selden is a 25-year-old African-American Airbnb user. He claims that he tried to book an accommodation using his name, and a profile photo that showed he was black. The host denied his request. Then Selden created two fake profiles of white men, and tried booking the room again. With both of the white profiles, he was approved.
Selden says he complained to Airbnb, but was ignored by the company. Now, Selden has filed a lawsuit against Airbnb accusing the company of denying him equal access to lodging and services based on his race. The lawsuit is being pursued as a class action lawsuit, with the potential for many other individuals joining.
According to Selden's attorney, Airbnb qualifies as a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This prohibits discrimination based on race or religion by landlords and property owners. “We are confident that there are numerous persons out there who will potentially join the class,” said Selden's lawyer.
After Selden went public with his complaints of discrimination, a new hashtag was making its way across Twitter, #AirbnbWhileBlack. Others have complained under the hashtag that they were discriminated against by Airbnb hosts. A study from Harvard Business School found that Airbnb users with African-American-sounding names were less likely to be approved than users with white-sounding names.
Airbnb did not comment on pending litigation but responded to reporters that racial discrimination is against the company's mission to bringing people together. “We prohibit content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm against any individual or group,” said Nick Papas, director of public affairs for Airbnb. “We are taking aggressive action to fight discrimination and eliminate unconscious bias in our community.”
If you have been denied accommodations or been discriminated against because of your race or religion, you should consider speaking with an Illinois discrimination attorney. An experienced discrimination lawyer will fight to make sure your rights are protected. Our attorneys have successfully represented clients in race, sex, religion and age discrimination claims throughout the state of Illinois. If you have suffered physical, financial or emotional injury, contact your experienced Illinois discrimination attorneys at Benassi & Benassi.