Sez producers have First Amendment right to be selective in casting

A federal judge has dismissed a racial discrimination suit brought by two potential African-American contestants for “The Bachelor,” who claim that their applications to appear on the reality show were rejected because the shows only cast whites in the lead role.

U.S, District Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in an opinion issued on Monday that ABC and production company Warner Horizon were protected by the First Amendment in the casting process, siding with their argument that “applying anti-discrimination laws to casting decisions in this manner would threaten the content of various television programs and television networks.”

Trauger wrote that otherwise, the legality of even networks that target demographic groups, like Lifetime, BET and Logo, “would be called into question,” and that shows like “Jersey Shore” and “The Shahs of Beverly Hills” that do not have a “sufficiently diverse cast would be or would have been subject to court scrutiny.”

The plaintiffs, Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, applied for a casting call for “The Bachelor” in 2011, and they each said that they were given short shrift compared to other potential contestants. They alleged that the “shows’ complete lack of people of color is no accident,” and that as a matter of internal policy, the network and studio have cast only white Bachelors and Bachelorettes. Even Trauger noted that across all of the 24 combined seasons, all of the Bachelors and Bachelorettes have been white, along with the vast majority of the suitors.

But Trauger, a judge in federal court in Nashville, cited a 1995 Supreme Court decision in which the high court ruled that the First Amendment gave organizers of a Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade the right to control the content of their parade, in that case refusing to allow an Irish-American gay, lesbian and bisexual group to march. Trauger wrote that the conclusion of the high court was that “under appropriate circumstances, anti-discrimination statutes of general applicability must yield to the First Amendment.”

In addition to ABC and Warner Horizon, Next Entertainment, NZK Prods. and “Bachelor” exec producer Mike Fleiss were named in the suit.

The plaintiffs also had sought to certify a class of plaintiffs who had applied to the shows.

A spokesman for Warner Bros. said, “We felt from the outset this case was completely without merit and we are pleased the Court has found in our favor.”

The makers of “The Bachelor” had argued that they “have never discriminated based on race in connection with the casting process.”

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