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Airbnb Adds Pair of Legal Leaders Ahead of IPO (Corrected)

Oct. 14, 2020, 6:37 PM; Updated: Oct. 16, 2020, 4:37 PM

Airbnb Inc. is bolstering its in-house legal ranks as the San Francisco-based travel startup, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, pushes forward on a public listing.

Mary Huser, the former chief legal and compliance officer for Plantronics Inc., now called Poly, joined Airbnb in late August as deputy general counsel for risk and regulatory. The company also recently added deputy general counsel for product Iris Chen and associate general counsel for trust and safety Miko Ando Brown, said Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco.

The lawyers joined Airbnb, which faces regulatory scrutiny over short-term rentals, as the company filed plans for an initial public offering.

The new recruits follow several departures from the company’s legal and compliance staff. Airbnb shed 25% of its workforce as the coronavorus pandemic forced users to scuttle travel plans.

Chen spent the past 14 years as a vice president of legal at Google LLC, where she managed product and commercial legal teams and led a team of 140 employees providing support to the company’s digital advertising business. She joined Google in 2006 after working as an associate at Ropes & Gray and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.

In August, Google named Halimah DeLaine Prado as its new general counsel.

Brown, who is based in Denver, joined Airbnb from Davis Graham & Stubbs, where she had been a partner since 2017. She spent the previous decade at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, a fellow Denver-based law firm that promoted Brown to partner in 2011.

All three Airbnb hires have been involved in legal industry diversity efforts.

Brown, whose late uncle received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his civil rights work, started the Women in Leadership Lecture Series in 2013 to help female lawyers find mentors and fight workplace bias. Chen is a member of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Huser, a former Big Law partner who has worked in-house at BlackBerry Ltd., eBay Inc., and McKesson Corp., is an inclusion advocate.

Legal Challenges

Airbnb, which saw its second quarter revenue plunge 67% due to Covid-19, reportedly expects to raise $3 billion when it goes public in December. Activist investor Bill Ackman told Bloomberg TV last month that he held preliminary discussions with Airbnb about going public through his blank-check company.

The home rental company has watched its finances rebound from the ravages of the coronavirus as online lodging companies benefit from remote work policies allowing people to leave cities for rural locales.

Airbnb, which has been busy lobbying this year, has also emerged as one of the more litigious startups in Silicon Valley. The company has battled cities across the country over short-term rental regulations and been sued by several states over tax-collection shortfalls.

Airbnb’s Fusco noted that within the past year the company has settled litigation with Boston, New York, and Santa Monica, Calif., as it seeks to develop a better relationship with cities and other communities in which it operates.

Munger, Tolles & Olson has handled nearly 17% of Airbnb’s U.S. litigation caseload since the company’s founding in 2008, according to Bloomberg Law data. Other go-to firms for Airbnb over the last dozen years include K&L Gates, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

In-House Changes

Huser confirmed via email that she’s replaced Renée Lawson, a former deputy general counsel for litigation at Airbnb. Lawson joined Dropbox Inc. as head of litigation and regulatory in May, the same month former general counsel-turned-chief ethics officer Robert Chesnut announced his departure.

Airbnb hired Chesnut to be its top in-house lawyer in 2016. He relinquished that role last year after Airbnb recruited chief legal officer Richard Baer from Liberty Media Corp. Baer himself took over from former Airbnb legal chief Belinda Johnson, who stepped down this year as the company’s COO. She still serves on Airbnb’s board.

Chesnut was succeeded as ethics chief on an interim basis by associate general counsel for policy and compliance Kevin Heneghan, who remains in that role, said Airbnb spokeswoman Fusco. She also addressed the recent departure of vice president of trust Margaret Richardson, who left in August.

“For more than four years, Margaret has helped make Airbnb safer and more inclusive,” Fusco said. “We are sad to see her go, and we are grateful for all she has done for our community and wish her the very best.”

Richardson is a former chief of staff to former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who in private practice worked with her to craft Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policies.

She joined Airbnb in 2016 as director of global policy and was promoted last year to lead a policy, safety, and standards team. Richardson is now in a trust and safety role at Apple Inc., according to her LinkedIn profile. Richardson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In August, Airbnb elevated executive Crystal Brown—a former White House counsel and Justice Department lawyer—to director of global business affairs and policy for trust. Brown didn’t respond to a request for comment about her new position overseeing trust business affairs and community policy.

Brown’s promotion came a month after Airbnb tapped Siew Kum Hong, a former deputy general counsel for the Asia-Pacific region, to become COO of Airbnb China.

Huser, Airbnb’s new deputy general counsel for risk and regulatory, most recently spent nearly four years as legal chief for Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Plantronics. Her exit from the embattled consumer electronics company, which last year changed its name to Poly, came as it installed a new president and CEO.

Plantronics said in an Aug. 18 securities filing that Huser would depart with a lump sum cash payment of $442,520. The company disclosed in a 2020 proxy statement it paid nearly $2.3 million in total compensation to Huser. She currently owns roughly $643,000 in Plantronics stock, according to Bloomberg data.

(Corrects description of Chen's legal role at Google in fifth paragraph. Originally published Oct. 14.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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