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The ripple effect of taking legal action

ripple effect of lawsuit

I remember two of my first few clients from way back when. They both were wronged in different ways and felt pretty bad about what happened. Still, when they spoke with me, during almost every conversation they mentioned that they were doing this -- hiring a lawyer -- because they didn't want the same things to happen to someone else.

This article about Airbnb's new policy reminded me of them. The new policy asks its hosts to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.

It comes as an outgrowth of a lawsuit filed by a 25 year old African American man, Gregory Selden, who tried to rent a place in Philadelphia through Airbnb. He was denied even though later that day he noticed the place continued to be available on the dates he had requested.

To test if there was racial discrimination at work, Selden created two fake Airbnb profiles, both white, "Jessie" and "Todd." "Jessie" had the same demographics as the plaintiff, except he was white. "Todd" was an older man, also white, but with far less information about himself in his profile than Selden had. (Hosts often rely on the information in the profile to determine if they want to rent to that individual.)

Using the two fake profiles, Selden sent the Airbnb host requests to book the same dates that he had asked about earlier that day. The Airbnb host accepted both requests from the fake white profiles.

After Selden contacted Airbnb about it, the company did not respond. So, he got a lawyer and filed suit for discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and contracts.

The company, in turn, hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to craft a new anti-discrimination policy. As part of its attempts to prevent discrimination by hosts, the company purportedly will also:

• Reduce the prominence of guest photos during the booking process.

• Encourage instant bookings that don’t involve host approval of the guest.

• Assemble engineers, data scientists and others to find patterns of bias.

• Route concerns of bias to trained specialists and ensure that guests experiencing bias find a place to stay.

Selden's case against Airbnb is a good example of how legal action by one person can, indeed, create good for a much broader community. In that sense, it mirrors what two of my very first clients wanted, and what so many others hope will result from their legal actions.

If I can help you with your discrimination or other employment issue, contact me.

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