For the first time, an Airbnb host who exhibited racism on the platform an all too common occurrence — will be held legally responsible and penalized. Tami Barker, the owner of a home at Big Bear Lake in Southern California who canceled a booking with an Asian-American woman in February on the basis of her race, has been ordered by the state to pay $5,000 in damages, the Guardian reports.
The penalty is a historic one, after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) reached an agreement with the company to test for racial bias in its users. The tests, in which investigators create fake accounts and request stays, apply to California hosts who have had complaints lodged against them and have at least three postings about 6,000 hosts per the Guardian.
Bias in the case of Barker was cut-and-dried. The host abruptly canceled a reservation in February that 26-year-old Dyne Suh made for a cabin near Big Bear just minutes before Suh arrived, sending her a message saying "I wouldn’t rent to u if u were the last person on earth," and "One word says it all. Asian." Barker also cited Trump’s presidency as a defense of her discrimination. Suh proceeded to post screenshots of the exchange to Facebook, and was coincidentally put on camera to tell her story by a local TV station who happened to be in the area reporting on a snowstorm that was happening at the time.
After Barker’s cancellation, Suh and several friends were forced to look for another place to stay on a snowy night. The incident went viral in April after Suh's teary video from the news station appeared online. “I’ve been here since I was 3 years old,” Suh said in the video. “America is my home.”
After Suh reported the incident to both Airbnb and DFEH, as The Verge writes, Barker was permanently banned from the platform. The DFEH undertook their own investigation and mediated conversations between Suh and Barker’s lawyer.
Beyond the monetary penalty, Barker will have to take a college-level Asian American studies class, personally apologize to Suh, volunteer with a civil rights organization, attend a “public education event,” and comply with anti-discrimination laws, per the department’s announcement about the agreement
Barker's lawyer issued a statement to the LA Times saying she was “regretful for her impetuous actions and comments” and “pleased to have resolved her claims with Miss Dyne Suh and the DFEH in a manner that can hopefully bring a positive outcome.”
Similar penalties may come in the future from DFEH, based on discrimination in Airbnb hosting made notorious with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. The Guardian reports that the agreement between Airbnb came after a ten-month investigation from DFEH concerning complaints that Airbnb hosts exhibited bias.
Research from Harvard Business School in 2015 found that Airbnb users with names that sound “distinctively African-American” were 16 percent more likely to be rejected for a listing than those with white-sounding names. Airbnb has condemned the discrimination exhibited by some of its hosts, but the platform also exists in a hazy legal area, as Fortune explains, where hosts may not be subject to the same anti-discrimination laws as local businesses though this case in California may be a turning point. Recently, the company has made some changes, recommended after an investigation by former attorney general Eric Holder, such as shrinking the size of profile pictures and releasing a nondiscrimination policy in an effort to undercut bias.