Supreme Court sides with Comcast in $20B racial discrimination suit

Media mogul Byron Allen lost a battle against Comcast Monday in the Supreme Court related to a $20 billion racial discrimination suit. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI
Media mogul Byron Allen lost a battle against Comcast Monday in the Supreme Court related to a $20 billion racial discrimination suit. Photo by Jason Szenes/UPI | License Photo

March 23 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of Comcast in black media mogul Byron Allen's racial discrimination suit against the company, setting a high bar for bringing such suits under the 1866 Civil Rights Act.

The case arises from Comcast, which owns CNBC parent company NBCUniversal, refusing to carry channels, such as Justice Center.TV, Comedy.TV, Pets.TV and Cars.TV, from Entertainment Studios, which Allen founded. Comcast argued that it did not carry the channels because of limited bandwidth and preference for news and sports coverage. But Allen argued that those reasons were pretexts and Comcast has a history of rejecting business from "100 percent African American-owned media companies."


At issue was whether Allen must prove Comcast would have carried his channels if he was not black or whether proving that race was one "motivating factor" among others was sufficient for the case to proceed. Allen agreed that the tougher standard would need to be met to win the suit, but said that he should only have to meet the lower bar in earlier stages.

The lower court had ruled in Allen's favor that the "motivating factor" was enough to proceed. But the Supreme Court's decision reversed the Ninth Circuit ruling, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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"The guarantee that each person is entitled to the 'same right ... as is enjoyed by white citizens' directs our attention to the counterfactual -- what would have happened if the plaintiff had been white?" Justice Neil Gorsuch, a President Donald Trump appointee, wrote in the opinion. "This focus fits naturally with the ordinary rule that a plaintiff must prove but-for causation."

Comcast praised the decision.

"We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously restored certainty on the standard to bring and prove civil rights claims," Comcast said in a statement. "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."

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On the other hand, Allen said in a statement the decision was "harmful to the civil rights of millions of Americans."

His attorney, Erwin Chemerinksy, a leading scholar of constitutional law, added that the battle "will now shift to Congress."

A goal going forward is to get Congress to amend the law "to allow claims to go forward on a showing that race is a motivating factor in the denial of a contract," Chemerinksky said.

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who concurred with the judgment of the court, was the only justice to offer a separate opinion in the case, noting that she disagreed with Comcast's assertion that civil rights legislation only barred discrimination in a contract's final stages.

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