Dem pushes Airbnb to protect users' right to sue

Dem pushes Airbnb to protect users' right to sue
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A House Democrat is calling on Airbnb to stop using forced arbitration clauses in its contracts with customers.

Often slipped into the fine print, the clauses force customers to settle disputes through a third-party arbitrator instead of the courts.

“These clauses operate to deprive American consumers of their day in court, so that when companies clearly violate the law consumers are still unable to seek redress in public courts of law,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, wrote in a letter to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky on Wednesday.

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“The rule of law does not always apply in the forced arbitration process and it also lacks the procedural safeguards and precedential value inherent to civil litigation that is crucial to developing case law applicable to state and federal statutes,” he added.

Johnson also raised the controversy over alleged racial discrimination on the Airbnb platform.

A Harvard University Study found that hosts on the site were discriminating against potential renters based on race, gender and age. Many Airbnb users also shared experiences of discrimination on social media, drawing scrutiny of the company.

Airbnb responded by adopting a nondiscrimination policy.

Johnson praised Airbnb’s initial steps on that front but said that forced arbitration clauses denied justice by not allowing victims of discrimination to bring their claims to court.

"Ending discrimination and bias on the Airbnb platform requires a sustained and multifaceted approach,” he said.

In a statement to The Hill, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said the company has reached out to Johnson’s office to discuss the matter further.

“We want to focus on how we can make sure our platform is not only making sure anyone can belong anywhere but how we can also work with our community to bring people from different background together,” he said.

“To that end, we have put in place a Community Commitment that goes beyond the law that everyone must agree to in order to use our platform; created a guest guarantee so any guest who believes they have been subject to bias is guaranteed a listing; and just last week announced that we have met the goal of having 1 million listings instantly bookable.”