An African-American man who sued Airbnb over alleged racial discrimination has lost because of the fine print he agreed to when signing up.
Gregory Selden, whose complaint prompted the Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack, contended a Philadelphia host had denied him a room because of his race. Selden filed what he intended as a class-action lawsuit against the San Francisco-based company.
Sounding rueful at times, U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper on Tuesday ruled that the fine-print Airbnb Terms of Service that Selden had signed required him to go to arbitration instead.
“No matter one’s opinion of the widespread and controversial practice of requiring consumers to relinquish their fundamental right to a jury trial, and to forgo class actions, as a condition of simply participating in today’s digital economy, the applicable law is clear,” Cooper wrote.
Acknowledging that the “result might seem inequitable to some,” Cooper added that “mutual arbitration provisions in electronic contracts, so long as their existence is made reasonably known to consumers, are enforceable, in commercial disputes and discrimination cases alike.”
Eager to begin using the service and realizing that the provider’s contractual terms are non-negotiable, most of us signed up without bothering to click the accompanying link to reveal the contractual terms.
U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper
The case arose when Selden set up an Airbnb account in preparation for a weekend trip to Philadelphia in March 2015. The account included his picture, and the Airbnb host allegedly responded that the advertised residence was not available.
Selden then created a second account under a pseudonym, with a photograph of a white person in the user profile, and contacted the same host about the same accommodation. This time, Selden claims, the host was willing to rent the residence.
The company denied any wrongdoing, but also said the lawsuit was blocked by compelled arbitration.
“The company’s standard Terms of Service . . . contain a clause requiring all disputes to be resolved by an arbitrator,” Cooper wrote. “Civil lawsuits with a potential jury trial are prohibited. As are class actions.”
Airbnb’s sign-up procedures were “sufficiently clear to place Mr. Selden on notice that he was agreeing to the company’s Terms of Service when he created an account,” Cooper said.