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Airbnb Host Must Pay $5,000 for Blatant Racial Discrimination

By George Khoury, Esq. on July 14, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Tami Barker, a former Airbnb host in California, settled a civil rights complaint against her for $5,000, and has agreed to a whole host of other demands, after it was discovered that she discriminated against an Asian renter. Dyne Suh, and a few friends, had rented Barker's cabin through Airbnb. However, when Barker realized Suh was Asian, she cancelled the reservation, hours before it was set to begin.

Even though a last minute cancellation may be incredibly rude, it would not have been discriminatory but for what the host texted to Suh. In short, Barker sent Suh text messages essentially stating she didn't like Asians and foreigners, and further asserting that Trump's victory allowed her to discriminate. Airbnb and California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing did not agree with Barker, and took action.

Consequences for Airbnb Discrimination

Airbnb kicked Barker off the site, after this incident went public, for violating their antidiscrimination policy. After the DFEH investigated, an odd settlement was reached. In addition to paying Suh $5,000, Barker must attend community education and take a college course in Asian-American studies, volunteer with a civil rights organization, and personally apologize to Dyne Suh. Had Barker refused this agreement, Suh would have strong claims against her under California civil rights laws.

After the settlement, Tami Barker's attorney explained that Barker regrets her "impetuous actions and comments." Sadly, her attorney's use of the modifier "impetuous" is significant as it seems to imply that Barker still holds the same discriminatory beliefs, but merely regrets expressing those beliefs before thinking through the consequences of expressing them. While not explicitly stated, based on Barker's attorney's careful word choice, it sounds like the cheapest settlement term, the apology, might be the one that causes Barker's the most difficulty.

Airbnb and California Cooperate to Fight Discrimination

Interestingly, Airbnb and the California state agency charged with fighting discrimination in housing and employment, the DFEH, have agreed to work together to identify Airbnb hosts that discriminate illegally. Basically, state regulators will pose as regular Airbnb users and review whether certain hosts discriminate or violate the law.

Under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, victims of illegal discrimination committed by individuals and businesses are entitled to a minimum of $4,000 in monetary damages for each act of discrimination they suffer.

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