Airbnb has a discrimination problem on its hands. Last month, in an ugly, racist exchange, an Airbnb host in North Carolina said he canceled a guest’s booking because she was black. Another customer hit the company with a lawsuit, claiming he was rejected for a booking in 2015 when a host saw that he was black, and then accepted by that same host when he made a fake profile as a white person. And those are just the recent instances. Online, stories of discrimination have crept up across social media, many under the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.
Although the peer-to-peer home rental company has swung into action, forcefully denouncing the racism of the North Carolina host, booting him from the service and promising reforms in the way its host businesses operate, the incident exposes the gray zones in the rules that guide the gig economy. If you’re renting out a room in your apartment, are you legally obliged to abide by the same anti-discrimination rules that businesses must observe?
With these dos and don’ts in mind, it’s also important to point out that Airbnb has been criticized by some legal experts for its mandatory arbitration clause, which all customers who want to use the service agree to, which prevents customers from seeking relief through court trials, or via class actions.
The arbitration clause — a tactic used by many businesses — seems to take the teeth out of Airbnb’s claims about discrimination, some legal experts say, because it prevents Airbnb customers from taking effective legal action.
“You can really prove a pattern or practice of discrimination [through a class action] and show it is systemic,” says Joanne Doroshow, executive director at the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School. “It is hard to do that if it is just an individual.”
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