Supreme Court Sides With Comcast, Sets Higher Burden for Byron Allen to Win Racial Bias Suit

The unanimous ruling throws the case back to lower courts

Last Updated: March 23, 2020 @ 9:36 AM

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Comcast over Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks in the latter’s $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit, and ruled that Allen must proved that racial bias was the sole cause the cable giant refused to carry his TV channels.

In a unanimous ruling, the justices sent the case back to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the comedian-turned-media mogul’s claims in order for his lawsuit to proceed.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously restored certainty on the standard to bring and prove civil rights claims,” a rep for 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.”

Allen lamented the decision. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has rendered a ruling that is harmful to the civil rights of millions of Americans. This is a very bad day for our country,” he said in a statement. “We will continue our fight by going to Congress and the presidential candidates to revise the statute to overcome this decision by the United States Supreme Court, which significantly diminishes our civil rights.”

The case stems from a 2016 racial discrimination lawsuit in which Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks accused Comcast and Charter of refusing to carry ESN’s cable channels, which include Cars.TV and Pets.TV, because Allen is black. (Allen purchased The Weather Channel in 2018.)

He accused the cable giants of violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. section 1981. The $10 billion Charter case is still proceeding but will presumably be affected by this ruling as well.

Allen’s Comcast lawsuit was dismissed three times at the district level, but the Ninth Circuit appeals court reversed that decision in 2019 and set a lower legal standard for demonstrating discrimination — that “a plausible ‘motivating factor’ showing is all that is necessary to overcome a motion to dismiss.” The Supreme Court rejected that theory, calling it “mistaken.”

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