SACRAMENTO — Airbnb Inc. will institute anti-bias training for its employees and track how often guests of color are denied short-term rentals under terms of an agreement with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing announced Thursday.

The agreement follows a 10-month investigation, initiated by the department, into whether the home-booking platform was failing to stop owners from discriminating against African-American guests.

“We worked with experts and directly with Airbnb to review their own analysis trying to determine whether there is discrimination going on,” Kevin Kish, the department’s director, said. “I think everybody acknowledges that there is.”

The agreement, which shields Airbnb from immediate legal action from the agency, follows a series of public accusations alleging racial discrimination by hosts, including the viral video of a Southern California woman explaining in tears how her rental was canceled at the last minute by a host who cited her Asian race as the reason. Airbnb later dropped the host form the platform.

Airbnb in July retained former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, now a Covington & Burling partner, to draft a policy addressing discrimination by site users.

“Our work with the state of California builds on our ongoing efforts to fight bias and we look forward to continuing to work with state leaders to ensure the Airbnb community is fair for everyone,” Airbnb general counsel Rob Chesnut said in a statement on the company’s website.

The agreement includes 10 pages of changes that Airbnb must make, or in some cases consider making, over the next two years. Some of those changes include:

► Providing training for California customer service agents on spotting signs of discrimination by hosts.

► Submitting reports to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing every six months on complaints to Airbnb about discrimination and the company’s response.

► Exploring changes to the platform that would increase the use of Airbnb’s “instant book” changes, which allows guests to book lodging without having to wait for an owner’s consent.

► Developing a system of “progressive discipline” for discriminatory hosts, starting with counseling and ending with removal form the platform.

► Consideration by Airbnb of compiling a database, available to a host and the company, of guests rejected by a hosts. Airbnb will also consider blocking hosts from booking new reservations for a particular time period if they’ve told other guests the space is unavailable then.

Airbnb is already pursuing some of those changes based on a September 2016 report, commissioned by the company, looking into racism and bias on the platform.

“What I’m happy about is having information, having access and having the ability to test” hosts’ practices, Kish said.

The agreement notes that the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and Airbnb disagree about whether the company can be held liable under state laws for hosts that violate guests’ civil rights.

State housing regulators contends that it can, citing the Fair Employment and Housing Act provides liability for “an act or failure to act” while the Unruh Civil Rights Act “makes illegal an intentional failure to prevent discrimination.”

Attorneys for Airbnb, represented by Munger, Tolles & Olson, argue that the company did nothing to violate either law and that it cannot be held liable for hosts’ actions under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.





Contact Cheryl Miller at cmiller@alm.com. On Twitter: @CapitalAccounts