Byron Allen, owner of Entertainment Studios Network (ESN)—an African American-owned media company—filed a discrimination lawsuit against Comcast, alleging that the telecommunications giant refused to carry any of the network’s channels due to racially discriminatory practices. A federal court initially dismissed the claims. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the lawsuit legitimate after Allen appealed the initial decision. Comcast appealed the decision, which ultimately brought the case to the Supreme Court.
According to Allen, Comcast had assured him that his channels were being considered for carriage, and that they were on the “short list” for new channels. However, rather than follow through with that assurance, Comcast moved forward with over 80 lesser-known channels, all of which were owned by caucasians. Comcast characterized the claims as “outlandish” and that the decision to launch the other channels had nothing to do with race.
The key issue that the Supreme Court will be considering is whether there is enough evidence of racial discrimination to allow the lawsuit to proceed. Allen claims that Comcast is in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, which guarantees racial equality in a number of domains, including business. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco opined that ESN only had to prove that discrimination was a motivating factor in Comcast’s decision regarding ESN programming. However, Comcast argued that Congress allowed “motivating factor” discrimination claims under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but purposely did not include a similar provision to Section 1981. ESN countered by arguing that Congress added the provision to Title VII to protect discrimination victims, and that this should not mean Congress planned to limit civil rights claims under Section 1981.