Airbnb names chief ethics officer and bolsters legal team

US: Airbnb has named deputy general counsel Peter Urias as its chief ethics officer and bolstered its legal team.

Urias, who has worked at the home-sharing platform for four years, takes over from Robert Chesnut, who departed Airbnb as part of the company’s 25 per cent reduction of its global workforce, and former associate general counsel for policy and compliance, Kevin Heneghan, who left earlier this year. Urias then took up the position himself on an interim basis but was promoted to deputy general counsel this month.

During his time at Airbnb, Urias is believed to have advised the company on its 2019 acquisition of hotel-booking service HotelTonight, assisted its Pro Host, Luxe and Long-Term Stays businesses, and played a key role in a diversity plan intended to increase the representation of minority groups in Airbnb’s workforce.

Other notable departures include Tanja de Coster, an associate general counsel for global litigation; Julie Wenah, a community senior counsel and acting regional counsel for Africa; Robert Studley, lead counsel for community trust; and associate general counsel Derek Smith.

On the flip side, Airbnb has bolstered its legal, compliance, safety and security teams in 2021 with the hiring of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner John Polito as associate general counsel for global risk and regulatory; corporate counsel Alison Bloch; Blake McKenzie senior associate Juliana Marques as senior principal for tax; senior privacy counsel Julienne Chang; and Courtney Shike as counsel for stakeholder initiatives.

Since going public via an initial public offering [IPO] last December, Airbnb has sought to enhance a reputation that, in the eyes of some of its critics, had been tarnished through disputes in cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Paris, where the company was accused of taking away available housing stock from local residents and hosts were alleged to have broken laws and disrupted neighbourhoods through large gatherings and parties.

Then in June, Bloomberg uncovered how Airbnb had been spending approximately $50 million a year to keep serious incidents in its short-term rentals out of the press through the use of a “black box” team. Cash was reported to have been given to both hosts and guests so that they would not “imply responsibility or liability” on Airbnb.

Airbnb’s legal team is currently headed up by chief legal officer Richard Baer, who joined the firm two years ago.