The nation’s highest court has agreed to review a case claiming discrimination in contracting against Comcast in alleged violation of section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act.
In Comcast’s petition, the cable company argued that plaintiffs must show that racial animus was the motivating factor leading to a programming decision in order for a discrimination case to prevail.
In a statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Comcast denied any allegation of discriminatory conduct and said it hopes the Court “will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s unusual interpretation of the law.”
“Comcast has an outstanding record of supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African-American owned channels, two more of which we launched earlier this year. There has been no finding of discriminatory conduct by Comcast against this plaintiff because there has been none, Comcast spokesperson said in the statement. “We carry more than 100 networks geared toward diverse audiences. In light of this record, much of which plaintiffs’ complaint itself acknowledged, it is not surprising that the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims of race discrimination three times, finding them utterly without merit. We believe the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision was incorrectly decided. At this stage, the case is about a technical point of law that was decided in a novel way by the Ninth Circuit. We hope the Supreme Court will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s unusual interpretation of the law and bring this case to an end.”
Entertainment Studios’ founder, chairman and CEO Byron Allen issued the following statement in response to the decision: “We have already prevailed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and we are highly confident we will also prevail in the U.S. Supreme Court. Today’s announcement from the U.S. Supreme Court is historic, and we are on the right side of history. Unfortunately, Comcast continues to mislead the American people and its subscribers. This case is NOT about African American-themed programming, but IS about African American OWNERSHIP of networks. Unfortunately, the networks Comcast refers to as ‘African American-owned’ are not WHOLLY-owned by African Americans, and did not get ANY carriage until I stood up and spoke out about this discrimination and economic exclusion. Comcast — one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington, DC — will continue to lose this case, and the American people who stand against racial discrimination will win.”
Allen’s Entertainment Studios Network sued both Comcast and Charter Communications
— $20 billion against Comcast and $10 billion against Charter in a separate case — for alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act.
Allen said he tried for years to get the cable giants to carry his networks, which were available to millions of television viewers through rival distributors including Verizon, DirecTV, AT&T, DISH. Allen said he has been repeatedly rebuffed, and alleges race played a factor.
The companies petitioned for review after Allen’s company survived motions to dismiss at both the U.S. district court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The high court has not yet announced if it would take up Charter’s petition.
Charter attempted to have Entertainment Studios Network’s suit dismissed on First Amendment grounds, arguing that its choice of cable channels is a form of expression.
The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit today supported the district court’s ruling, which found that the First Amendment doesn’t shield Charter from engaging in discriminatory conduct. The appeals court reached a similar decision in the suit against Comcast, sending both cases back to the trial court.
“These two decisions against Comcast and Charter are very significant, unprecedented, and historic,” said Allen in a statement lauding the decision. “The lack of true economic inclusion for African Americans will end with me, and these rulings show that I am unwavering in my commitment to achieving this long overdue goal.”
Both Comcast and Charter earlier issued statements expressing disappointment with the lower court rulings.