The nation’s highest court will hear Hollywood mogul Byron Allen’s racial discrimination case against Comcast Corp.
Allen, a comedian who runs an empire under the name Entertainment Studios Inc., has claimed in federal lawsuits that Comcast and Charter Communications Inc. have racially discriminated against him by refusing to distribute his cable-TV channels to tens of millions of American homes because they are owned 100 percent by him, an African American.
Allen seeks $20 billion under a Reconstruction-era civil rights law that says companies can’t discriminate based on race in business contracts.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Allen’s case against Comcast, according to the court’s website. The court has not yet decided on Allen’s suit against Charter.
In late 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that both the Comcast and Charter cases had sufficient claims to proceed to discovery and depositions. That decision is what is being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Comcast said on Monday that it has an “outstanding record of supporting and fostering diverse programming,” adding that it believes the Ninth Circuit 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.”
Allen, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, said that the court’s decision was “historic” and that “we are on the right side of history.” He added that “Comcast — one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington, D.C — will continue to lose this case.”
Comcast has sought to have the Los Angeles federal court throw out Allen’s case before it leads to discovery or depositions. Comcast says it did not discriminate against Allen based on his race, claiming legitimate business reasons for its decision not to distribute his TV channels, such as low ratings, and saying it has a First Amendment right to decide what entertainment and news content it distributes.
Allen’s cable channels include JusticeCentral.TV and Comedy.TV. He owns 43 syndicated television series, eight cable networks, the Weather Channel, and a movie studio that distributed the film Chappaquiddick. Allen acquired the Weather Channel after he filed his suits and it is distributed on cable systems.
Legal experts consider the Ninth Circuit a left-leaning court.
Allen’s suit, filed in February 2015 in Los Angeles, says that Comcast added to its lineup 80 networks that were newer and “white-owned” during the years that it was telling his Entertainment Studios Networks that it lacked the capacity on its cable systems for more channels.
Allen’s attorneys told the court that 50 pay-TV operators already distribute Entertainment Studios Networks, including Verizon FIOS, DirecTV, RCN, and Suddenlink, to 80 million subscribers.
If Comcast were to distribute Allen’s cable-TV channels, Allen’s company could collect monthly subscriber fees and sell advertising to the Comcast cable homes, which would make his company vastly more valuable.
The lawsuit against Comcast contains some inflammatory claims. A Comcast executive allegedly told someone at Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks that “we’re not trying to create any more Bob Johnsons,” or a powerful African American-owned entertainment company.