The Supreme Court will consider whether a black television producer can pursue racial discrimination claims against Comcast for declining to carry his programming channels on its cable system (Warning: source paywalled; alternative source). The Wall Street Journal reports: The Comcast case stems from the cable operator’s decision not to carry Pets.TV, Recipes.TV and other channels from Entertainment Studios Networks Inc. The Los Angeles company is solely owned by Byron Allen, who gained celebrity as co-host of “Real People,” a 1980s reality show. Comcast has carried channels owned mostly or substantially by African-Americans, such as Magic Johnson’s Aspire and Sean “Diddy” Combs’s music channel, Revolt TV, as well as Black Entertainment Television, whose African-American founder, Robert Johnson, sold to Viacom in 2001.
The suit, filed under Reconstruction-era law affording “the same right” to contract “as is enjoyed by white citizens,” alleges, however, that Comcast discriminated against “100% African American” owned media such as Entertainment Studios. A federal appeals court in San Francisco allowed the suit to proceed. “If discriminatory intent plays any role in a defendant’s decision not to contract with a plaintiff, even if it is merely one factor and not the sole cause of the decision, then that plaintiff has not enjoyed the same right as a white citizen,” Judge Milan Smith wrote for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Comcast denies the allegations and says it was concerned the Entertainment Studios programming wouldn’t draw enough of an audience to justify allotting it bandwidth. The cable operator argues that federal law requires the plaintiff to show that he or she would have gotten the contract absent racial bias.