In a decision issued online Monday over entrepreneur and media mogul Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks in a discrimination lawsuit against Comcast, the Supreme Court’s justices unanimously decided to send the case back to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The lower court will now determine whether it should reconsider Allen’s claims in his $20 billion suit.
In an op-ed for BlackPressUSA.com, Maurita Coley, president and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom, and Internet Council (MMTC), explains, “The lawsuit arose out of Comcast’s decision several years ago not to carry several Allen-owned television channels, such as Pets.TV and Recipe.TV. Comcast has argued its rejection of Allen’s channels was purely a business decision, reflecting what it viewed as the channels’ limited audience appeal. Allen then promptly filed a $20 billion lawsuit against Comcast, alleging that the company’s refusal to contract with Allen’s company was racially motivated, in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
“District Court Judge Terry Hatter – a well-respected African American judge with an apparently strong record on civil rights – dismissed the case three times, finding that Allen had not established a plausible argument that Comcast would have contracted with his company ‘but for’ Allen’s race.
“Allen appealed to the 9th Circuit, which remanded Judge Hatter’s dismissal with a new guideline to the lower court that a plaintiff can state a viable claim under Section 1981 if discriminatory intent plays any role in a defendant’s decision not to contract, regardless of whether race discrimination was a “but for” cause of that decision. Comcast petitioned the Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s decision, and the Supreme Court agreed.”
The Supreme Court filing, Comcast Corp vs. NAAAOM, was the result of an appeal by Comcast of the 9th Circuit’s decision.
Comcast argued that the Section 1981 ban can only be interpreted as requiring “but for” causation. It argued that everyone must have “the same right” as white citizens “to make and enforce contracts.”
Comcast assured the justices that reasons that have nothing to do with race, such as a lack of bandwidth, and its decision to focus on news and sports content, were the basis of their decision not to carry ESN’s channels. Moreover, Comcast noted it had, for many years, carried numerous other African American-owned networks.
ESN countered that Comcast’s position would prohibit a plaintiff who alleges that race was a motivating factor for the refusal to contract from conducting fact-finding discovery on the claim, no matter how strong the evidence of racism, unless the plaintiff could meet the stringent requirement of plausibly alleging that race was the “but-for” cause of the refusal to contract.
That, ESN reasonably insists, is an extremely high and difficult hurdle because “the defendant typically is the only party with access to evidence of the defendant’s motives.”
On Monday, Comcast released the following statement, “We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously restored certainty on the standard to bring and prove civil rights claims. The well-established framework that has protected civil rights for decades continues. The nation’s civil rights laws have not changed with this ruling; they remain the same as before the case was filed.
“We now hope that on remand, the 9th Circuit will agree that the District Court properly applied the law in dismissing Mr. Allen’s case three separate times for failing to state any claim.
“We are proud of our record on diversity and will not rest on this record. We will continue to look for ways to add even more innovative and diverse programming that appeals to our diverse viewership and continue our diversity and inclusion efforts across the company.”
NNPA attempted to contact Byron Allen’s attorneys for a statement. However, at the time of this writing, neither Allen nor his attorneys have provided any comments.