Airbnb is being sued over claims that hosts who use the site to rent out their homes discriminate against potential renters based on race. Gregory Selden, a 25-year-old black man filed the suit on Monday, claiming his civil rights were violated after being refused an Airbnb vacancy, but later being granted the rental after changing his photo on the site to one of a white man.
The lawsuit further states there are "potentially thousands" of people who have been denied Airbnb housing based on their race, and that the suit is vital for protecting "the civil rights of [Selden] and all other similarly situated who have been injured by the pertinent discriminatory acts or practices committed by Airbnb's, host agents, representatives, servants of any type."
In an email sent to Complex, Airbnb representative Nick Papas said,
While we do not comment on pending litigation, we strongly believe that racial discrimination is unacceptable and it flies in the face of our mission to bring people together. We prohibit content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm against any individual or group and we are taking aggressive action to fight discrimination and eliminate unconscious bias in our community.
Papas further referenced a post on Airbnb's website published last week titled, "A Fair Community for Everyone," which details Airbnb's official intentions regarding discrimination on their site. Notably, the post refers to the apparent racial bias that some black customers have reported as "unconscious" and "hidden."
We have clear goals: we want to eliminate unconscious bias in the Airbnb community and fight discrimination. Airbnb has demonstrated the ability to bring people together and make it easier for more people to explore the world and we’ve seen how the simple act of sharing a home can unite people from all walks of life. We want to bring people together and fight the hidden biases that can prevent people from connecting.
But black people who have experienced discrimination on Airbnb disagree that the biases are unintentional, and have shared their experiences on Twitter using #AirbnbWhileBlack:
A recent study out of Harvard University also found that discrimination is common within the online sharing economy, and specifically discrimination against black people on Airbnb. The study found "requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names." The report did not refer to the discrimination in their findings as "unconscious" or "hidden."