Judge Recommends Tossing Airbnb Racial Bias Suit

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Airbnb won’t have to face a class action for racial discrimination if a federal judge follows the recommendation of a magistrate judge who said the black woman representing the class can’t sue because she has not personally faced discrimination from the company.

Patricia Harrington filed a class action lawsuit against Airbnb in March, claiming the company lets homeowners decline guests based on their race because it requires hosts and renters to set up profiles with their pictures. Harrington’s attorney, Yoona Park with Stoll, Stoll, Berne, Lokting & Shlachter, argued in court in November that Airbnb denied Harrington’s request to provide her with the same breadth of accommodations it offers guests with a profile picture that shows they are white.

Airbnb admitted that its own research “generally confirmed public reports that minorities struggle more than others to book a listing.” But the company moved to dismiss, claiming that Harrington was complaining only about theoretical discrimination and had not personally been harmed by any Airbnb policy.

The company insisted that it is working to end discrimination against its users via a nondiscrimination pledge for hosts, active removal of discriminatory hosts and a policy called “Open Doors,” which promises to set up accommodations for any guest who says a discriminatory host denied them a place to stay.

“Discrimination has no place on our platform and we are actively fighting bias by implementing new policies and product changes,” spokeswoman Laura Rillos said in an email.

In findings and recommendations issued Thursday, Magistrate Judge Youlee Yim You found that the federal court should side with Airbnb. But she questioned the wisdom of the law that required that finding.

Harrington told the court that she has never joined Airbnb, either as a host or as a guest. And the class she proposed would have consisted of “all African-American residents of Oregon who are not currently, and never have been, members of Airbnb.”

You found that that put Harrington’s claims outside the jurisdiction of Oregon’s anti-discrimination laws, which require claims to come from someone who has personally experienced the discrimination their complaint addresses.

Noting that Oregon’s law barring discrimination in public accommodation was passed seven years before the founding of Airbnb, and that Airbnb has publicly conceded that discrimination is a problem, You suggested that her ruling may be an outcome of the law’s limitations.

“While including future-looking discrimination claims under the umbrella of [the Oregon law] could arguably provide a remedial tool, this court lacks authority to expand the statutory language,” You wrote. “As currently written, [the law] provides no recourse for forward-looking discrimination claims. Accordingly, neither Harrington nor the individuals in the class she seeks to represent may bring suit thereunder.”


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