Supreme Court To Hear Comcast Appeal In Byron Allen $20 Billion Racial Bias Lawsuit

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Byron Allen
Byron Allen, CEO and Chairman of Entertainment Studios, at Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures “47 Meters Down” LA premiere, June 2017, in Los Angeles. Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures/AP Images

The U.S. Supreme Court will get to decide whether the largest cable TV company in the U.S. discriminated against media mogul Byron Allen.

Comcast appealed a lawsuit that claimed it racially discriminated against Allen’s Entertainment Studios Network when it refused to license his TV channels.

By accepting the case, the Supreme Court will be examining standards in racial discrimination lawsuits, according to Hollywood Reporter.

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Allen’s $20 billion lawsuit alleges violation of the 1886 Civil Rights Act. Allen was upset with the way that cable TV distributors refused to license his channels. He sued Comcast and Charter Communications in a separate case. The cable companies petitioned for review after Allen’s company survived a motion to dismiss at the district court and then scrutiny at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court hasn’t said whether it will also take on Charter’s petition. That case will likely be guided by the outcome in Comcast’s appeal,
Reuters reported.

Comcast and Charter serve tens of millions of customers in more than 40 states. Allen claims that since 2008, the two companies have refused to distribute his stations while launching scores of mostly white-owned networks, USA Today reported.

An entrepreneur, TV mogul and comedian, Allen filed suit alleging that his civil rights were violated according to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which forbids racial discrimination in business contracts.

The cable operators said their business decisions were based on capacity constraints, not race, and that Allen’s channels, including JusticeCentral.TV, Cars.TV, Pets.TV and Comedy.TV, did not show sufficient promise or customer demand to merit distribution, Reuters reported.

The lawsuits blamed the rejections mainly on racial discrimination, accusing cable executives of giving insincere or invalid excuses and granting contracts to carry white-owned networks during the same period.

In one example of alleged racism, the lawsuit against Comcast claims that a company executive said, “We’re not trying to create any more Bob Johnsons” – a reference to Robert L. Johnson, the founder of BET, USA Today reported.

“A key to the Comcast case before the Supreme Court is whether the network must show that race was the sole reason for the denial of a contract or just one factor,” Richard Wolf wrote for USA Today. 

In support of its review, Charter’s attorneys invoked the musical “Hamilton”.

“The musical ‘Hamilton’ is notable for its creator’s decision to cast exclusively minority actors as the Founding Fathers,” wrote Charter’s legal team. “A refusal to contract with a white actor to play George Washington cannot be made an antidiscrimination violation without profoundly undermining First Amendment values.”