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California’s Public Civil Rights Agency Reaches Agreement with Airbnb to Combat Discrimination

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California’s Public Civil Rights Agency Reaches Agreement with Airbnb to Combat Discrimination

California’s Public Civil Rights Agency Reaches Agreement with Airbnb to Combat Discrimination

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has reached an agreement with Airbnb, the online “sharing economy” platform that allows individuals to rent their homes to guests, that will support ongoing efforts to reduce bias and combat discrimination on Airbnb’s platform.

Criticism of Airbnb began with a 2015 Harvard School of Business study that found guests with African-American sounding names had a tougher time renting rooms on Airbnb’s platform than guests with white sounding names. In early 2016, DFEH began investigating taking action against Airbnb after reports of discrimination on Airbnb’s platform became widespread on social media.

At the time, Bryan Schwartz Law Associate Logan Talbot was working at the DFEH as a Civil Rights Fellow. Talbot was asked by the agency to research the issue and explore the agency’s options for action. Talbot drafted a memorandum for DFEH Director Kevin Kish that recommended pursuing a Director’s Complaint against Airbnb, alleging that Airbnb may have engaged in acts of discrimination and failed to prevent discrimination in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Unruh Civil Rights Act.

DFEH thereafter filed the Director’s Complaint. On April 27, 2017, the DFEH issued a press release stating that the agency had reached a voluntary agreement with Airbnb to combat housing discrimination on Airbnb’s platform. Under the Agreement, Airbnb will advise all renters in California who complain of discrimination of their right to file a complaint with DFEH. Additionally, Airbnb will regularly provide reports to DFEH on complaints of discrimination by Airbnb users in California and guest acceptance rates by race and national origin in California. The Agreement also provides that Airbnb employees who review Airbnb Host and Guest complaints will receive training on how to recognize complaints of discrimination and the proper methods for referring discrimination complaints to Airbnb’s anti-discrimination team. As part of the agreement with DFEH, Airbnb will also post on its website and email to all California Hosts a notice of the opportunity to obtain free online unconscious bias training.

The agreement also allows for DFEH to conduct fair housing testing on California hosts who have been the subject or one or more discrimination complaints and have three or more listings on Airbnb’s platform. Airbnb has agreed to not interfere with DFEH’s fair housing testing and will allow them to create accounts and profiles for such testing.

“We will continue to work collaboratively with Airbnb to prevent racial discrimination by its hosts,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “California is committed to removing all discriminatory barriers in housing, including in new platforms and marketplaces. Fair housing testing is an important and powerful tool in enforcing fair housing laws.”

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