Former Airbnb host fined $5,000 for refusing Asian American guest

Posted at 8:14 AM, Jul 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-14 08:14:15-04

A former Airbnb host who canceled a guest’s reservation citing her race, will have to do more than pay a $5,000 fine.

The host, who has been banned by Airbnb after the February incident, agreed to take a college-level Asian American studies course, volunteer at a civil rights organization and participate in a community education panel.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing announced the somewhat unusual agreement Thursday and described the measures as “forward-looking and restorative” in a statement.

Dyne Suh had driven in a snowstorm to the Airbnb rental near Big Bear, California. The host canceled the reservation as Suh was close to arriving and texted her: “I wouldn’t rent to u if u were the last person on earth. One word says it all. Asian,” according to the department.

Suh responded that she would report the host to Airbnb for being racist.

“It’s why we have trump,” the host wrote back. “And I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”

An Airbnb spokesman called the incident, “abhorrent and unacceptable” in April.

Suh filed a complaint to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces the state’s civil right laws.

On Thursday, the department announced that the host agreed to the following:

apologize to Suh comply with anti-discrimination laws attend training take a college level course in Asian American studies participate in a community education panel perform volunteer service at a civil rights organization report rental data to the department for four years pay $5,000 in damages

“The real story is how a charged and painful encounter led to an opportunity for reconciliation between the people involved, and to an opportunity for them to enhance the public’s understanding of discrimination and civil rights in California,” said Kevin Kish, the department’s director in a statement.

Suh told CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS that the educational component was appropriate.

“Taking a terrible incident and then turning it into a good thing, an educational opportunity is a much better remedy than just paying a fine or having sanctions,” she said.

The department said that they were “heartened” that the host was willing to take the corrective measures.

“This is a development in restorative justice, which means that people can make mistakes, people can do bad things, but they’re not irredeemable,” Jon Ichinaga, chief counsel of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing told KCAL/KCBS.

Airbnb rental that went awry

Earlier this year, Suh, who was then a UCLA law student, told CNN affiliate KTLA that she had reserved the Airbnb rental in Big Bear on February 17, and had clarified with the host that she could bring two extra friends.

But when she messaged the host to double-check whether it was still OK shortly before arriving, the host accused her of being a “con artist” and canceled the reservation, according to KTLA. The host also made remarks alluding to Suh’s race and the reference to President Donald Trump.

After receiving the messages, Suh pulled over as her friends figured out their next plans amid a heavy snowstorm, she said on Facebook. There, they ran into a news crew from KTLA covering the storm, and Suh provided a tear-filled interview about the incident.

“I just feel so hurt,” she said. “It stings that after living in the US for over 23 years, this is what happens. No matter if I follow the law, if I’m kind to people, no matter how well I treat others, it doesn’t matter. If you’re Asian, you’re less than human and people can treat you like trash.”

Airbnb issued Suh a full refund and offered to reimburse the group for a hotel.

California looks at Airbnb discrimination issue

The home-sharing company has come under fire after reports of discrimination on the site and criticisms that it has been slow to address the issues.

Airbnb has pushed more aggressively to combat racial discrimination on its platform. In September 2016, the company released a report suggesting remedies and a greater focus on dealing with those issues.

In California, the issue became a matter for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which aims to protect people from unlawful discrimination in housing. The agency and Airbnb reached an agreement in April to “reduce bias and combat discrimination on Airbnb’s platform.”

Under the agreement, Airbnb is to report guest acceptance rates by race in California to the department. The agency may also carry out fair housing tests — which consists of creating customer profiles with certain characteristics to see whether a host complies with fair housing laws.