WASHINGTON (AP) – Comedian and media mogul Byron Allen wants viewers to watch the channels his company produces – from those that air all day “Judge Judy” -type shows to those devoted to comedy, cars, to food and pets. But while many distributors broadcast Allen’s channels, two cable giants refused.
Allen says the reason is that he is black and therefore is being sued for racial discrimination. An appeals court left its proceedings go ahead, but now the Supreme Court will weigh in and could inflict a setback.
Judges will hear arguments on November 13 in a $ 20 billion lawsuit that Allen filed against Comcast, the outcome also affecting a $ 10 billion case he filed against Charter Communications.
If Allen wins, black-owned businesses will have an easier time winning lawsuits alleging discrimination in contracting. If Comcast wins, the bar will be high for success with similar combinations.
The question for the judges is whether Allen has to show race was only one factor in Comcast’s decision not to offer him a contract, or whether that was the only factor.
Allen said his business is getting rid of institutionalized racism. Continuing with that claim, he said, “is one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life” and “one of the things I am most proud of”.
But Comcast says its decision not to air Allen’s channels has nothing to do with race. Allen’s content is “not particularly original” and “not particularly high quality,” said Comcast lawyer Lynn Charytan, and Comcast has simply made the editorial decision not to broadcast it.
Magistrate’s court has dismissed Allen’s action three times in appeals court, Comcast says, wrongly let him go . The Trump administration sided with Comcast.
Allen, 58, began his road to the media mogul as a child when his family moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. Her mom got a job at NBC, which means Allen hangs out in the studios. He would see Johnny Carson record “The Tonight Show” and comedian Flip Wilson rehearse for his variety show.
As a teenager, Allen began acting himself and first appeared on the “Tonight Show” at the age of 18. This led him to a job as an animator for reality TV precursor âReal Peopleâ while he was at the University of Southern California. Ultimately, Allen’s interests turned to the television business, and in 1993 he founded his own media company.
Today, its Los Angeles-based entertainment studios have 10 television networks, including Cars.tv, Comedy.tv, Pets.tv, Recipe.tv, and JusticeCentral.tv. Last year he bought The Weather Channel . He also has a film distribution company.
But Comcast and Charter Communications, the country’s two largest cable companies, have given up on broadcasting Allen’s channels. Other distributors, including Verizon FIOS, broadcast the channels. The same goes for AT&T and DirecTV, now merged, after Allen sued them and they settled down.
Comcast called Allen’s lawsuit a “scam,” saying that she and others Allen filed were meant to gain media attention and be exploited when companies were working on mergers. Comcast noted that Allen initially sued Comcast, but also civil rights groups including the NAACP and the National Urban League, claiming they plotted to discriminate against him. Comcast called the allegations absurd.
âThis is really a mundane transportation dispute that has been dressed up by Mr. Allen in a costume of racial discrimination for his own purposes,â said Comcast attorney Miguel Estrada.
But Skip Miller, one of Allen’s attorneys, said Allen’s channels are “perfectly good channels” and “popular programming in many areas.” Miller said he saw no legitimate reason why Comcast and Charter would refuse to transport them.
âThere’s no reason, no reason in our opinion, other than that he’s black,â Miller said.
Allen sued Comcast in 2015, citing section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. . Passed a year after the end of the civil war, the law prohibits racial discrimination, saying everyone should have “the same right … to enter into and perform contracts … as white citizens.”
Allen and his lawyers argue that in order to sue and win, all he has to do is show that his race played a role in Comcast’s decision not to offer him a contract. Comcast says Allen has to show that he didn’t get a contract just because of his race.
Regardless of the judges’ decision, Allen is prepared to make either argument and have the case proceed after the Supreme Court ruling, his attorney has said. Last week he garnered support from the Los Angeles Urban League, which threatened Comcast with a boycott and other actions if it doesn’t drop the case.
âThis case is bigger than me,â Allen said.