Court Battles

Supreme Court to hear racial discrimination case against Comcast

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The Supreme Court on Monday said it would hear a case alleging that Comcast discriminated against an African American owned media company in declining to take up its channels.

The justices said in an unsigned order that the court will consider whether the network needs to prove that Comcast meant to act in a discriminatory way in the case.

Byron Allen, the owner of the Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), alleged that Comcast violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 in rejecting to carry his channels.{mosads}

His network initially lost its case in district court, but that ruling was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges wrote in that decision that “[e]ven if racial animus was not the but-for cause of a defendant’s refusal to contract, a plaintiff can still prevail if he demonstrates that discriminatory intent was a factor in that decision.”

Comcast had asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, alleging that ESN’s claims are “based on an outlandish racist conspiracy between Comcast, the NAACP, and other civil-rights groups and leaders to disadvantage wholly African American-owned networks.”

ESN has pushed back against that argument, claiming that its channels were repeatedly passed over in favor of white-owned networks despite Comcast saying the channels were “good enough” and on the “short list” to be picked up.

In a statement, Comcast said that the company “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.”

“At this stage, the case is about a technical point of law that was decided in a novel way by the Ninth Circuit,” Comcast said. “We hope the Supreme Court will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s unusual interpretation of the law and bring this case to an end.”

Allen said in a statement that he is “highly confident we will also prevail in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“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,” he said.

Updated at 3:03 p.m.

Tags cable company Comcast Discrimination Entertainment Studios Networks minority-owned network Supreme Court
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