New on SSRN: “The New Public Accommodations”

A full draft of my article “The New Public Accommodations,” coauthored with Aaron Belzer, is now available on SSRN. Here’s the abstract:

The sharing economy raises important new questions about public accommodation laws. Such laws originally were enacted to prohibit establishments open to the public—for example, hotels, restaurants, taxi services, and retail businesses—from discriminating on the basis of characteristics such as race, color, religion, and national origin. Sharing economy businesses are functional substitutes for these traditional public accommodations. Yet existing public accommodation laws are not always a good fit for the unique features of the sharing economy.

This Article is the first to argue that public accommodation laws must evolve to address race discrimination in the sharing economy. Available evidence suggests that, in many circumstances, race discrimination affects the sharing economy in much the same way it affects the traditional economy. Sharing economy businesses use online platforms to connect providers of goods and services (drivers; landlords) with users of those goods and services (passengers; renters). These platforms often make race visible to both providers and users by requiring that they create profiles that include names, photographs, and other information. Such profiles may trigger conscious and unconscious bias and result in discrimination even if the parties never meet in person. Moreover, sharing economy businesses encourage or even require providers to rate users. Rating systems aggregate biases, and users who are members of disfavored racial categories may begin to receive worse service, or, eventually, to be denied service altogether.

This Article examines existing public accommodation laws—Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 42 U.S.C. § 1982, and the Fair Housing Act—and concludes that they hold considerable promise for remedying discrimination in the sharing economy. Nonetheless, the sharing economy presents new issues that existing laws do not entirely address. To the extent that sharing economy businesses perform the same function as traditional public accommodations yet escape existing laws, we argue that those laws should be amended and briefly describe the form the new laws should take.

Feedback is very much welcome–please feel free to contact either me or Aaron.