SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on Thursday announced that it has reached an Agreement with a former Airbnb host who canceled the reservation of an Airbnb guest, texting, “I wouldn’t rent to u if u were the last person on earth” and “One word says it all. Asian.”
The agreement includes a personal apology, an agreement to complete volunteer service with a civil rights organization, and an agreement to participate in a public education event.
The agreement follows an investigation by the department into the February 2017 cancellation of a California Airbnb reservation.
The announcement is part of the DFEH’s ongoing effort to address racial discrimination on the Airbnb platform and to investigate and prosecute discrimination by Airbnb hosts in California.
The statutory minimum penalty under California’s civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation is $4,000 for each offense. The former host will pay $5,000 in damages as part of the agreement.
DFEH did not refer to the host by name, but various media reports have identified her as Tami Barker.
On Feb. 17, while driving in a snowstorm to an Airbnb listing near Big Bear, Airbnb guest Dyne Suh, a student at the UCLA School of Law, communicated with the Airbnb host via the Airbnb mobile app regarding her reservation. Despite having sent confirming text messages approving of additional guests, Barker denied that she had agreed to additional guests and canceled Suh’s reservation.
In a series of communications using the Airbnb mobile app, the host stated, “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person on earth” and “One word says it all. Asian.”
Suh responded that she would report Barker to Airbnb.
Barker wrote back, “It’s why we have trump. And I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”
“For me personally, to now have someone say something racist to me, and say it’s because of Trump, it was my worst fears coming true,” Suh told KTLA.
An Airbnb spokesman said, “This behavior is abhorrent and unacceptable. We have worked to provide the guest with our full support.”
As part of the agreement reached with DFEH, Barker issued a personal apology to Suh and agreed to comply with anti-discrimination laws, to attend training, to take a college-level course in Asian American studies, to participate in a community education panel, to perform volunteer service at a civil rights organization, and to report rental data to DFEH for a period of four years. The host also agreed to pay monetary damages of $5,000.
DFEH Chief Counsel Jon Ichinaga made clear: “There is a monetary cost to discriminating in California: a $4,000 minimum penalty for discrimination in places of public accommodation, which the department will seek in all appropriate cases.”
“We commend Ms. Suh, who was motivated to file a complaint by a desire to encourage other victims of discrimination to step forward and stand against injustice,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “We are also heartened by the host’s willingness to embrace corrective measures that are forward-looking and restorative.”
“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,” Kish observed.
Suh told KCAL/KCBS that she agreed with the solution: “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.”
Earlier this year, the department reached an agreement with Airbnb in which the company agreed to allow the DFEH to conduct fair housing testing of certain California hosts, to advise all users with complaints of racial discrimination of their right to file a complaint with the department, and to report to the department on rates of guest acceptances by hosts by race of the guest.
After Suh complained to Airbnb, the company conducted an investigation and permanently banned the Barker from the online platform.
The DFEH is the state agency charged with enforcing California’s civil rights laws. The mission of the DFEH is to protect the people of California from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations and from hate violence and human trafficking. For more information, visit www.dfeh.ca.gov.