Lawsuit alleges discrimination by Airbnb in Oregon; Airbnb believes it is without merit

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A lawsuit filed in Multnomah County alleges Airbnb discriminates against black customers, but the company does not believe the lawsuit has merit.

Stoll Berne and Nick Kahl LLC filed the class action lawsuit that alleges Airbnb offers different services based on race.

The lawsuit alleges that customers are mandated to maintain a profile that includes a photograph and full name, and "some Airbnb hosts, in turn, deny booking requests from African-American guests because of their race."

"Because of this practice, African-American members of Airbnb do not have access to the same accommodations available to other guests, in violation of Oregon's public accommodations laws," according to a statement from the law firms.

The lawsuit cites a study that claims prospective guests with distinctively African-American names are around 16 percent less likely to be confirmed for bookings than customers with names that do not sound African-American.

In a statement, Airbnb reported that everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to the "Airbnb Community Commitment" to treat everyone with respect and without judgment or bias.

The company also has more than 1.25 million listings that can be booked without prior host approval of a specific guest.

"While we don't believe this lawsuit has merit, we will continue to work tirelessly to make our community open and accessible to everyone," according to an Airbnb statement.

Plaintiff Patricia Harrington claims Airbnb refused her request to allow her to join Airbnb "free of its discriminatory policies."

"If the public learned that a major hotel chain would not allow guests to book rooms online without the hotel first looking at the guest's photograph and full name, there would be outrage. In many ways, the new shared economy allows discrimination to continue in a somewhat hidden manner, but the same rules apply," said Josh Ross, co-managing shareholder of Stoll Berne and counsel for the plaintiff and the proposed class.

An Airbnb statement expressed confidence that if the plaintiff attempted to book a listing, she would be able to do so.

"We have a dedicated team available to help the plaintiff and anyone who feels that they have been discriminated against. Under our 'Open Doors Policy,' if a guest is not able to book a listing because they have been discriminated against, Airbnb will ensure the guest finds a place to stay," according to an Airbnb statement.

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