Adjudication without Frontiers
Edited by Horatia Muir Watt, Lucia Bíziková, Agatha Brandão de Oliveira and Diego P. Fernandez Arroyo
Chapter 20: Global contract governance: Selden v. Airbnb
This case concerns a racial discrimination suit against Airbnb. The company operates an online marketplace in which people can list, discover and book accommodation around the world. Is Airbnb the contemporary, global equivalent to a hotel; and its hosts to rental agents or hotel employees? Into the limelight with this dispute comes Airbnb’s liability for the conduct of its users and the rising importance of alternative dispute resolution in online adhesion contracts. The claimant, an African American citizen named Gregory Selden, was planning a trip to Philadelphia in March 2015. In order to book accommodation, Selden created a profile on Airbnb by ‘signing up with Facebook’. Selden’s profile included a photograph of his face and personal information. Shortly afterwards, he made an inquiry about a listing and the host replied that the accommodation was not available. Selden suspected that he was denied access due to his race and created a fictitious Airbnb account using photographs of white men. He then moved to book the same accommodation once more and this time the inquiry was accepted by the host. Selden sought to hold Airbnb responsible under federal civil rights laws for the discriminatory conduct of those who offer accommodation on their website. In May 2016 he filed a putative class action after mobilising social media with the hashtag ‘#airbnbwhileblack’. Airbnb argued that the issue cannot be brought to court, since Airbnb’s Terms of Service stipulates mandatory arbitration for disputes ‘arising out of or relating to these Terms…’.
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