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Sexual assault survivors can now sue Airbnb

This photo shows the Airbnb logo on a computer screen.
Airbnb is changing its terms of service to remove a mandatory arbitration clause that kept survivors of sexual assault and harassment from suing the company.
(Getty Images)

Airbnb Inc. said it will allow hosts and guests to sue the company over claims of sexual assault and harassment, lifting a mandatory arbitration clause that’s been buried in its 40-page terms of service for more than a decade.

The update will be reflected in the next iteration of the company’s terms of service in the fall, the company said in a statement Friday, without specifying a date.

“We believe that survivors should be able to bring claims in whatever forum is best for them,” the statement said. “We encourage our industry peers within the travel and hospitality space to consider taking similar steps for their respective communities.”

Since as early as 2011, Airbnb’s terms of service have included a clause that says any dispute arising out of a stay booked on the platform will be settled through binding arbitration. All of Airbnb’s 150 million or so users were required to agree to this when they registered, meaning they signed away the right to sue.

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Airbnb shares fell in extended trading after the company forecast a decline in bookings compared with pre-pandemic levels, citing the Delta variant.

The use of forced arbitration became a flashpoint in corporate America during the #MeToo movement. Many businesses started distancing themselves from the practice because of the way it shields corporations from public accountability.

In 2018, Airbnb, along with Microsoft Corp., Google and Facebook Inc., removed binding arbitration in sexual assault and sexual harassment claims filed by employees. Sharing-economy peer Uber Technologies Inc. went further, updating its terms of service to eliminate forced arbitration for passengers and drivers.

A Bloomberg Businessweek investigation published in June highlighted the lengths to which Airbnb went to keep rapes and other violent incidents quiet — sometimes spending millions of dollars on settlement payouts and using the binding arbitration clause in its terms of service to block users from filing claims for damages in court.

Airbnb said the change to its terms of service “will codify a practice we have already had in place.” The company said that since January 2019 it has not asked a court to force any sexual assault or sexual harassment cases into arbitration. But Airbnb didn’t make any public announcements about changing this practice or update its terms of service.


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