BY ANDREW CHUNG
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court’s ruling that had given the green light to comedian-turned-media entrepreneur Byron Allen’s $20 billion racial bias lawsuit against Comcast Corp that accused the cable television operator of discriminating against black-owned channels.
In the unanimous ruling, the nine justices sent the case back to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider whether Allen’s claims that his failure to land a deal for Comcast to carry channels that he owned was due to racial discrimination were enough to let the case proceed. Allen is black.
The justices said the 9th Circuit assessed Allen’s claims using the wrong test. “To prevail, a plaintiff must initially plead and ultimately prove that, but for race, it would not have suffered,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote for the court.
Allen sued Comcast in 2015 in federal court in Los Angeles, making claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a post-Civil War law that forbids racial discrimination in business contracts. It requires all people to have the same right to make and enforce contracts “as is enjoyed by white citizens.”
Trump’s administration backed Comcast in the case.
Comcast refused to carry channels operated by Entertainment Studios, owned by Allen.
Comcast argued that a plaintiff must show early on in a case that a contract was denied solely because of racism or the lawsuit must be tossed. The 9th Circuit ruled last year that lawsuits may proceed if plaintiffs can show that discriminatory intent was one factor among others in the denial of a contract.