Airbnb, while pledging to combat discrimination, insulates itself from legal pressure to do just that.
Airbnb has pledged to combat discrimination on its platform. But as Katie Benner writes in the New York Times, Airbnb’s own policies prevent its users from pressuring for such changes with class-action lawsuits:
[T]he company’s class-action litigation policy makes it tough — if not impossible — for customers to push the start-up to make any substantive changes on the issue. Airbnb requires that people agree to waive their right to sue, or to join in any class-action lawsuit or class-action arbitration, to use the service.
That clause, known as a class-action waiver, crops up whenever someone logs into Airbnb’s site. In March, the company updated its terms of service for new users, partly to highlight that clause. Last month, Airbnb users were unable to log in and use their accounts until they agreed to the updated terms, including the class-action waiver language.
For example, Gregory Selden recently sued Airbnb under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which, among other things, prohibits discriminatory practices on the basis of race by “housing agents for rental accommodation.” Selden alleges that Airbnb violated the FHA when a host on the service denied him accommodation last year because of his race. Airbnb’s response to the lawsuit is due by July 13, and it’s possible they’ll use this suit to test the strength of their class-action waiver.
Airbnb’s clause is part of a growing trend. “By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies [have] devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices,” notes the New York Times in an earlier investigation.