Local woman files lawsuit, says Airbnb has discrimination problem

A local woman says Airbnb's policies make it it harder for people of color to rent a place to stay, so she has filed a lawsuit against the short-term vacation rental service.

Patricia Harrington, an African American woman who isn't a member of the site, filed the lawsuit Monday in Multnomah County District Court. Harrington claims Airbnb's requirement that users submit their full names and a profile picture make it easier for hosts to discriminate based on race.

Attorney Nick Kahl is representing Harrington.

"It's come to our attention that in a significant number of instances, hosts are discriminating against perspective guests based on their race," Kahl said.

He said Airbnb rentals should be treated just like more traditional motels and hotels, and held to the same standard.

"Say if you went to Hilton and tried to book a room and they said, 'You know what? I'm going to let you book a room, but first I want you to send me a picture and let me know your name and then we'll decide if we're going to let you book a room,' then you'd be upset," Kahl said.

This isn't the first time Airbnb has faced allegations of racism. A recent Harvard Business School study found that Airbnb guests with more African American names were about 16 percent less likely to be accepted than those with Anglo-sounding names.

Chicago resident Quirtina Crittenden started the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack after she said she was discriminated against by a host.

Here's a full statement from an Airbnb spokesperson Tuesday:

We strongly oppose bias and discrimination and under our Open Doors policy, we help anyone who believes they have been discriminated against and ensure they find a place to stay. While we don’t believe this lawsuit has merit, we will continue to work tirelessly to make our community open and accessible to everyone. Everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to the Airbnb Community Commitment -- a commitment to treat everyone with respect and without judgement or bias -- and today we have over 1.25 million listings that can be booked without prior host approval of a specific guest.

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