Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios scored legal victories on Monday as a federal appellate court ruled that his racial discrimination lawsuits against Comcast and Charter Communications will proceed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, Calif., overturned a lower court’s decision to dismiss Allen’s claim against Comcast. The same three-judge panel also affirmed a lower court’s decision to deny Charter’s motion to dismiss Allen’s suit.
The rulings state that Allen has made a plausible case for racial discrimination being a factor in the separate decisions by Comcast and Charter to not carry any of Entertainment Studios’ suite of cable channels. Allen filed suit against Comcast in 2015 and against Charter in early 2016.
Allen’s suits are rooted in a post-Civil War law designed to help protect newly freed slaves from discrimination in pursuing business deals and contracts. Monday’s rulings do not address the merits of Entertainment Studios’ claims against the cable giants, only that there are enough plausible allegations in the suits to allow the litigation to continue through the courts. The appellate panel also ruled that the First Amendment claims exerted by Comcast and Charter as protecting their programming decisions were not sufficient to dismiss the cases outright.
Allen maintains that racial bias is a factor in Comcast and Charter’s longstanding decisions to not carry any of his entertainment and lifestyle channels. Allen filed a similar suit against AT&T that was settled in late 2015 when AT&T’s DirecTV picked up seven Entertainment Studios channels.
“Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding Charter’s treatment of Entertainment Studios, and its differing treatment of white-owned companies, are sufficient to state a viable claim,” Judge Milan D. Smith Jr. wrote in the Charter opinion.
Comcast and Charter were critical of the decisions.
“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision, and are reviewing the decision and considering our options,” Comcast said in a statement. Charter had a more forceful response.
“This lawsuit is a desperate tactic that this programmer has used before with other distributors,” Charter said. “We are disappointed with today’s decision and will vigorously defend against these claims.”
Allen, who is founder, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios, hailed the rulings as “unprecedented and historic.”
“The lack of true economic inclusion for African-Americans will end with me, and these rulings show that I am unwavering in my commitment to achieving this long overdue goal,” Allen said.