Heyl Royster

How Can Employers Respond to Race Discrimination? Promote Diversity

october 4, 2016

By: Emily Galligan, egalligan@heylroyster.com

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal,1 employers can learn a lesson by observing the actions of a modern hospitality company, Airbnb. Airbnb is an online marketplace that enables individuals to either list or rent vacation homes for a smaller fee than typical hotels. It currently lists over 1,500,000 homes in over 30,000 cities worldwide. The company is valued at approximately $25.5 billion.

Recently, allegations surfaced against Airbnb whereby the hosts of vacation homes were denying rental homes to individuals with ethnic sounding names. According to a field study conducted by Harvard University,2 renters with ethnic or African American sounding names were 60 percent less likely to be approved for housing. The information quickly caught on to social media, spawning the twitter campaign #AirbnbWhileBlack and creating negative publicity towards the company.

In response, Airbnb immediately brought in consultants to remediate the issue. Airbnb responded to the negativity by minimizing the use of renter or host photos, providing in-house diversity training to Airbnb employees, and providing a direct phone line to customer support to provide immediate lodging if a renter thinks they have been discriminated against. Airbnb also implemented penalties to any customer who has discriminated against a renter by preventing the opportunity for them to host or rent a home in the future.

Employers can learn a lesson from Airbnb by how it quickly recovered from this negative publicity. Racial discrimination is a serious allegation; it is illegal to discriminate against an employee or applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Employers should note that the best way to prevent discrimination is to encourage diversity and implement internal diversity training. For questions, or if your company would like to set up a complimentary diversity training seminar, please contact any of the Heyl Royster attorneys in the Employment & Labor Practice Group.


1 Greg Bensinger , Airbnb Promotes Diversity to Prevent Booking Discrimination by HostsThe Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/airbnb-promotes-diversity-to-prevent-booking-discrimination-by-hosts-1473343215 (last visited Sept. 9, 2016).

2 Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment, Benjamin Edelman, Michael Luca, & Dan Svirsk Sept. 4, 2016, available at http://www.benedelman.org/publications/airbnb-guest-discrimination-2016-09-04.pdf.

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