Supreme Court, In Unanimous Decision, Says Byron Allen Must Meet Higher Threshold To Continue Racial Bias Case Against Comcast

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Byron Allen
The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously against media mogul Byron Allen in his $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit against Comcast. In this photo, Allen, CEO and Chairman of Entertainment Studios, seen at Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures “47 Meters Down” Los Angeles Premiere at Regency Village Theatre on Monday, June 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures/AP Images)

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously against media mogul Byron Allen in his $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit against Comcast, reported Deadline. In their opinion, the justices said Allen needs to prove racial discrimination was the “but for” (or sole) cause Comcast wouldn’t carry channels from his Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN).

The opinion stated “a plaintiff must initially plead and ultimately prove that, but for race, it would not have suffered the loss of a legally protected right …”

It was only posted online as justices chose to forego an in-person proceeding due to the coronavirus. The unanimous decision surprised many due to the partisan divide in the court, according to Deadline.

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Allen’s attorney, Erwin Chemerinsky, argued the court should’ve moved forward with the case based on the “motivating factor” – which would have put the burden of proof on Comcast to show that race wasn’t the only factor in their decision not to do business with Allen.

 The justices said by invoking the motivating factor, ESN wanted them to amend, not interpret the law.

“To accept (Entertainment Studios’) invitation to consult, tinker with, and then engraft a test from a modern statute onto an old one would thus require more than a little judicial adventurism, and look a good deal more like amending a law than interpreting one,” Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, who penned the opinion for the court, wrote.

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Initially filed in 2015, the case has run the gamut from being dismissed three times to getting the greenlight to move to the discovery phase; and finally reaching the nation’s highest court.

The ruling will send the case back to an appellate court, where Allen will have a heavier burden of proof. It’s not the news Allen, many Black Americans fighting for racial equality, nor his legal team had hoped for.

It was celebrated by Comcast, but rebuked by Allen and others, who said the ruling will make it tougher on others who file racial discrimination lawsuits.

 “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has rendered a ruling that is harmful to the civil rights of millions of Americans. This is a very bad day for our country,” Allen said in a statement. “We will continue our fight by going to Congress and the presidential candidates to revise the statute to overcome this decision by the United States Supreme Court, which significantly diminishes our civil rights.”

In her concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Comcast should ultimately be held responsible if race was the reason for its conduct. She wrote:

“The Court holds today that Entertainment Studios must plead and prove that race was the but-for cause of its injury — in other words, that Comcast would have acted differently if Entertainment Studios were not African American owned. But if race indeed accounts for Comcast’s conduct, Comcast should not escape liability for injuries inflicted during the contract-formation process. The Court has reserved that issue for consideration on remand, enabling me to join its opinion.”