California Airbnb host fined for racial discrimination after refusing Asian guest

Ms Dyne Suh's booking was cancelled just minutes before they arrived.
Ms Dyne Suh's booking was cancelled just minutes before they arrived.PHOTO: YOUTUBE/HASHTAG RE-HASH

CALIFORNIA - An Airbnb host in California was fined US$5,000 (S$6,900) for racial discrimination and ordered to attend a course in Asian American studies after cancelling a woman's reservation because she was Asian, The Guardian reported.

Ms Dyne Suh, who had booked Ms Tami Barker's mountain cabin in Big Bear through the home-sharing platform for a skiing weekend with her friends in February, was told the reservation had been cancelled just minutes before they arrived.

The reservation was cancelled after a dispute between the two over Ms Suh's request to bring additional guests. In a message sent to Ms Suh via the Airbnb app, Ms Barker wrote: "I wouldn't rent it to u if u were the last person on earth" and "One word says it all. Asian".

After Ms Suh said she would complain about the racist remark to Airbnb, Ms Barker replied: "It's why we have Trump… and I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners."

Tech start-up Airbnb allows people to lease or rent their homes to travellers globally.

According to The Guardian, the incident is the first time an Airbnb host has been penalised for racial discrimination.

The fine was imposed under a landmark agreement between Airbnb and California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which allows the department to penalise Airbnb hosts who have discrimination complaints against them.

The incident comes after reports from some Airbnb users who said they had faced problems securing bookings or had their reservations cancelled due to racial discrimination. A Harvard University study in 2015 had also found that guests with African American-sounding names faced more difficulties trying to rent rooms through the platform.

Ms Suh had made the reservation a month in advance for US$250 a night. She later asked to bring two friends and two dogs along - a request agreed to by Ms Barker for an additional US$50 a night.

But on the day they arrived, after Ms Suh texted to confirm she was nearby, and the cost of the stay, Ms Barker suddenly denied ever agreeing to the request and insisted even after she was sent screenshots of their agreement.

In a video recorded immediately after the incident, an emotional Ms Suh said: "It stings that after living in the US for over 23 years, this is what happens.

"I just feel so hurt. People thought: 'Oh, with the election of President Obama racism is over in this country.' No, it's very much alive, it exists and it could happen to anyone."

She added: "No matter how well I treat others, it doesn't matter. If you're Asian, you're less than human. People can treat you like trash."

Following the incident, Ms Suh lodged a complaint with Airbnb, which carried out an investigation and banned Ms Barker.

Another complaint was also lodged with the fair employment department. The two parties reached an agreement last week following mediation sessions to have Ms Barker attend the Asian American studies course.

In addition to the fine and taking the course, Ms Barker is also required to make a personal apology to Ms Suh and volunteer with a civil rights organisation.

Ms Barker's lawyer told The Guardian she regretted her behaviour, adding that she hoped the department's action will be a "positive outcome out of an unfortunate incident".