Airbnb has hired Eric Holder, but they didn't hire Eric Holder.
The former Attorney General, who led the Justice Department for most of the Obama administration, is going to help Airbnb with the discrimination problem on its home-sharing site. Black Airbnb users have been complaining for years about their troubles booking accommodations. Holder will be assisting the company in drafting an anti-discrimination policy for its users, both guests and hosts. He's doing so, however, in his capacity as a partner at Covington & Burling LLC, a pricey international law firm.
Airbnb announced Holder's role Wednesday in a blog post by CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky.
"[W]e understand that we have an obligation to be honest about our own shortcomings, and do more to get our house in order," Chesky wrote. "That’s why we’ve been talking more openly about discrimination and bias on our platform, and are currently engaged in a process to prevent it."
Chesky went on to explain that Airbnb would be bringing in outside experts to help with the review the company said it was undertaking in June. He added that the review is now "halfway" complete, and said of Holder specifically:
We are honored that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to join our team to help craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy. Holder will be working with John Relman, a leading civil rights attorney and national expert on fair housing and public accommodation issues. While we have a policy that prohibits discrimination, we want this policy to be stronger. And we will require everyone who uses our platform to read and certify that they will follow this policy.
David Schaefer, Covington's Director of Public Relations, confirmed that Holder is going to be working with Airbnb as a partner with the law firm, and not as an Airbnb employee. A spokesperson for Airbnb also confirmed that Holder was acting as outside counsel. That means Airbnb will likely be paying Holder a per-hour rate; the average for a Covington & Burling partner according to a 2014 survey by the National Law Journal is $780 per hour, with a high of $890 per hour.
“I’m looking forward to working with Airbnb to develop and implement a world-class anti-discrimination policy," Holder said in a statement issued by Airbnb. "Airbnb is committed to building a community where everyone can belong, no matter who they are or what they look like."
Holder held the top job at the Justice Department for six years, until he resigned in September 2014. He was succeeded by current Attorney General Loretta Lynch. During his tenure as attorney general, Holder moved forward anti-discrimination policies, including mandating that gender identity is a relevant factor in employment discrimination claims.
The company's troubles with racism have appeared pretty intractable in the past. Black users in particular have faced problems when trying to book lodging through Airbnb, and in April many chronicled their experiences with racism on the platform on Twitter using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. One user is suing Airbnb, saying his civil rights were violated.
Problems with discrimination are not faced solely by black Airbnb users looking for somewhere to stay. Researchers at Harvard Business School found that black hosts had to charge 12% less than non-black hosts on the platform.
So, regardless of Holder's precise employment relationship with Airbnb, he and the rest of the advisors Airbnb have brought on to craft their policy have a tough road ahead.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org