Airbnb Inc. was accused in a civil rights lawsuit of ignoring a Virginia man who said a host with the online room rental company had rejected his reservation request because he’s black.
Gregory Selden, 25, sued in Washington Tuesday. He seeks to represent anyone who claims to have had similar experiences in a class-action suit against the San Francisco-based Airbnb.
The suit adds to a growing list of legal challenges faced by Airbnb and other on-demand technology startups. The company has sparred with governments over the taxes its hosts pay, and it’s been sued over other alleged misdeeds of its hosts, including one incident involving a hidden camera in a rental.
“We strongly believe that racial discrimination is unacceptable and it flies in the face of our mission to bring people together,” Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, said in an e-mailed statement. “We are taking aggressive action to fight discrimination and eliminate unconscious bias in our community.”
Selden claims an Airbnb host in Philadelphia identified only as Paul turned down his request in March 2015. But Paul, whom Selden refers to as an Airbnb agent, representative or employee, continued to advertise the property as being available on the requested date, according to the suit.
“Soon after and on the same day he was rejected by the Airbnb agent or employee, Mr. Selden stumbled across the same listing,” according to the complaint. “This is despite the fact that the Airbnb agent or employee told Mr. Selden that the accommodation was not available.”
Paul then accepted the same request made by using two phony profiles for white men named Jessie and Todd, Selden said.
When Selden complained to the company, “his cries to Airbnb would fall on deaf ears,” according to the suit.
Selden said he took his complaint to Twitter instead, where his hashtag #airbnbwhileblack went viral and had “thousands of retweets from individuals who experienced the exact same disparate treatment from Airbnb host agents, representatives, servants or employees,” according to the suit.
Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas.
The case is Gregory Selden v. Airbnb, 16-cv-00933, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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