Airbnb host must pay $5,000 for canceling reservation based on race

An Airbnb host who canceled a woman’s reservation because of her race has agreed to pay $5,000 in damages and take a course in Asian American studies, a state regulatory agency announced Thursday.

The host, Tami Barker, told the woman who reserved her Big Bear cabin for a ski vacation in February that she would not rent to an Asian, justifying the action by adding in a text message, “It’s why we have Trump,” referring to President Trump.

The woman, Dyne Suh, a UCLA law student, said she was driving in a snowstorm to the Big Bear cabin when she received the text messages via the Airbnb mobile app. A tearful Suh, standing in the snow, shot a video posted on YouTube, describing her exchange with Barker.

“I’ve been here since I was 3 years old,” she said in the video. “America is my home. I consider myself an American. But this woman discriminates against me because I’m Asian.”

In the video, Suh shows screen shots of the exchange, including a message from Barker saying, “It’s is why we have Trump” and, “I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”

Under an agreement reached after an investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Barker agreed to pay Suh $5,000 in damages, issue her an apology and attend a college-level course on Asian American studies, among other penalties.

The minimum penalty under California’s civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation is $4,000 for each offense, the agency said.

An attorney representing Barker, Edward Lee, released the following statement on her behalf:

“While regretful for her impetuous actions and comments made on the evening of Feb. 17, 2017, Miss Barker is pleased to have resolved her claims with Miss Dyne Suh and the DFEH in a manner that can hopefully bring a positive outcome out of an unfortunate incident.”

The incident represents the first time the agency levied a financial penalty against an Airbnb host for discrimination, but it wasn’t the first time the agency has investigated Airbnb.

Kevin Kish, the director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said the monetary damages imposed in the case are typical of the penalties the agency has imposed for violations in the past involving hotel rooms, apartments and condo rentals.

He said he hopes the Barker case sends the message that discrimination won’t be tolerated among shared economy hosts just as it is not in traditional businesses.

“We know that this happens and the message is it should not,” Kish said.

The agreement comes three months after Airbnb and the state agency agreed to cooperate on fair housing tests to uncover discrimination among Airbnb hosts. The tests involved the use of state regulators posing as Airbnb guests who will try to make reservations to see if the hosts comply with fair housing laws.

In April, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said that Barker’s behavior was “abhorrent and unacceptable.” Barker was banned from Airbnb after the incident became public.

Airbnb has been dogged by accusations that hosts on the home-sharing platform have discriminated against guests based on their race.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

2:50 p.m.: This story was updated to include comments from Kevin Kish, director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.

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