Airbnb hit with racial discrimination lawsuit

As black Airbnb guests complain online about their difficulties finding accommodation on the website...

An African-American man has accused accommodation website Airbnb of ignoring his complaint that his reservation request was rejected because of his race.

Gregory Selden, 25, launched a federal lawsuit against the San Francisco-based company this week, claiming violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and is hoping to get class-action status to represent what he says are thousands of other Airbnb users who have experienced similar problems.

Court documents show that Selden was looking for lodgings in Philadelphia in March 2015 and opted to use Airbnb.

His account was linked to his Facebook, meaning his profile picture, race, education and age were all displayed when he made requests.

Selden says his initial application was rejected by an Airbnb host but when he later used two fake accounts posing as white men called "Jessie" and "Todd", the same applications were accepted.

Here is the tweet Selden sent out earlier this month showing his correspondence with the host and expressing his outrage:

Selden is claiming that the San Francisco-based company "shamed [him] for speaking out" when he complained.

Meanwhile, court documents state the host denied the accusations when Selden revealed what had happened, saying:

"That’s totally not true...

"It’s a disappointment people like you always victimize yourself solely on the basis of your skin colour. Good luck".

Selden wants injunctive relief and unspecified damages.

Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, said he could not comment on individual cases but stressed that Airbnb prohibits bigotry, racism, hatred or harassment:

"We strongly believe that racial discrimination is unacceptable and it flies in the face of our mission to bring people together. We are taking aggressive action to fight discrimination and eliminate unconscious bias in our community".

Selden's "#AirbnbWhileBlack" hashtag went viral, with a host of Twitter users telling their own stories of apparently negative experiences with the site due to their race.

In 2014, a Harvard study found that "requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively white names".