Supreme Court to hear racial case involving Comcast, mogul

Byron Allen has claimed that Comcast and Charter have refused to distribute his channels.

By Bob Fernandez / The Philadelphia Inquirer

The nation’s highest court will hear Hollywood mogul Byron Allen’s racial discrimination case against Comcast Corp.

Allen, the comedian who runs a Hollywood empire under the name Entertainment Studios Inc., has claimed in federal lawsuits that Comcast and Charter Communications Inc. have racially discriminated against him by refusing to distribute his cable-TV channels to tens of millions of American homes because it’s owned 100% by him, an African-American.

Allen seeks $20 billion under a Reconstruction-era civil rights law that says companies can’t discriminate based on race in business contracts.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Allen’s case against Comcast, according to the court’s web site. But the Supreme Court has not yet decided on Allen’s suit against Charter Communications.

Comcast said on Monday that it has an “outstanding record of supporting and fostering diverse programming,” adding that California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision “was incorrectly decided. At this stage, the case is about a technical point of law that was decided in a novel way by the Ninth Circuit. We hope the Supreme Court will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s unusual interpretation of the law and bring this case to an end.”

Allen, the chairman and CEO at Entertainment Studios, said that the court’s decision was “historic” and “we are on the right side of history.” He added that “Comcast — one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington, D.C — will continue to lose this case.”

Comcast has sought to have the Los Angeles federal court throw out Allen’s case before it leads to potentially embarrassing extensive discovery or depositions. Comcast says that it did not discriminate against Allen based on his race, claiming legitimate business reasons for its decision not to distribute his TV channels, such as low ratings, and that Comcast has a First Amendment right to decide what entertainment and news content it distributes on its cable systems.

Allen’s cable channels include JusticeCentral.TV and Comedy.TV. As part of his empire, he owns 43 syndicated television series, eight cable networks, the Weather Channel, and a movie studio that distributed Chappaquiddick. Allen acquired the Weather Channel after he filed his suits and it is distributed on cable systems.

Legal experts consider the Ninth Circuit a left-leaning appeals court and its decision will now be considered by the Republican-majority Supreme Court.

A spokesman for Allen’s company in Los Angeles could not be immediately reached for comment.

Allen’s suit, filed in February 2015 in Los Angeles, says that Comcast launched 80 networks that were newer and “white-owned” during the years that it was telling his Entertainment Studios Networks that it lacked the channel capacity on its cable systems for more channels.

Allen’s attorneys told the court that 50 pay-TV operators already distribute Entertainment Studios Networks, including Verizon Fios, DirecTV, RCN and Suddenlink, to 80 million subscribers.

If Comcast were to distribute Allen’s cable-TV channels, Allen’s company could collect monthly subscriber fees and sell advertising to the Comcast cable homes — which would make his company vastly more valuable.

The Comcast suits contains some inflammatory claims. A Comcast executive allegedly told someone at Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks that “we’re not trying to create any more Bob Johnsons,” or a powerful African American-owned entertainment company.

The reference was to Robert “Bob” Johnson, a hugely successful African American TV executive who created Black Entertainment Television, aka BET, and sold it to Viacom for $3 billion almost two decades ago.

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