Over 6-months after being slapped with a multi-billion dollar racial discrimination lawsuit, the satellite television provider wants out – again. “Plaintiffs attempts to rely on racially offensive conduct by AT&T executives to paint DirecTV with the same brush demonstrate that DirecTV should be severed from this action,” says a motion filed by attorneys for DirecTV late last week in federal court. “If DirecTV remains AT&T’s co-defendant in this action, it will be forced to defend itself against racially offensive conduct with which it had nothing to do. That is the definition of undue prejudice.”
Along with its prospective purchaser AT&T, DirecTV was sued last December for $10 billion by the National Association of African-American Owned Media and the Byron Allen-founded Entertainment Studios Network for biased against black owned media companies. DirecTV—with four times more pay-tv subscribers than AT&T— spends approximately $12 billion annually for channel carriage, but like AT&T, none of that $12 billion is paid for channel carriage from 100% African American– owned media,” claimed the original complaint on December 2 last year. The May 2014 announced potential $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV by AT&T was the primary link between the two in the initial lawsuit. Despite claiming it was a totally separate entity from AT&T with its own set of practices and agreements, DirecTV failed to get dismissed from the matter in April because the plaintiffs were allowed filing a second amended complaint.
Now that was done on June 5, DirecTV are seeking a way out again – merger or no merger. “If the merger goes forward, AT&T and DirecTV would still be two separate and legally distinct entities,” their July 10 paperwork says (read it here). “Therefore, regardless of whether or not the merger actually occurs, there is no basis to attribute the statements made by former AT&T employees to DirecTV.”
What is meant by that remark are allegations by NAAAOM and Entertainment Studios in their amended complaint that current DirecTV Content exec Dan York “presided over a culture of racism” while head of TV Content at AT&T. The plaintiffs also brightly spotlight that culture through York’s successor as President of Content and Advertising Sales at AT&T Aaron Slator. “Concrete, irrefutable evidence of Slator’s—and hence AT&T’s—racial animus” due to racially derogatory images and language on the latter’s company phone are claimed. Point of fact – Slater was canned from AT&T in April not long after the amended complaint was filed because of those very images and texts.
DirecTV says all that has nothing to do with them or York and there is no evidence it does.“Plaintiffs do not identify any discriminatory conduct or statements made by York after he moved to DirecTV”, asserts the provider. While Slator’s behviour and firing are detailed, a mention of a “discriminatory attitude” by York at DirecTV is cited in the amended complaint because the exec has supposedly “demanded exorbitant and unreasonable amounts from Entertainment Studios in order to distribute its channels.”
DirecTV will get their day in court to get out of this case on September 18 in downtown L.A. The same hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Patrick Walsh will see fellow defendant AT&T try to get the whole case tossed. The hearing will also see AT&T Mobility and AT&T Services attempt to achieve the same ends by claiming that the complaint from NAAASOM and Entertainment Studios has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
As they are in the similar $20 billion case filed in February against Comcast, Time Warner Cable, the NAACP and others the plaintiffs are represented by Louis Miller, Amnon Siegel and Lauren Wright of LA firm Miller Bardondess LLP. Duane R. Lyons, Justin Givens and Valerie Lozano of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represent DirecTV.