In Battle With Byron Allen, Comcast Pushes To Scrap Civil Rights Law Proving Racial Discrimination For Businesses

The lawsuit between Black business mogul Byron Allen and Comcast will have a drastic effect on a 100-year-old civil rights law.

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| September 27 2019,

5:33 pm

Civil rights groups are calling for a boycott of media conglomerate Comcast because the corporation is seeking to change an important civil rights law at the U.S. Supreme Court in November.

Comcast and successful Black businessman Byron Allen have been battling in court for years over his claim the company refused to carry his channels because of his race. If Comcast wins the November 13 Supreme Court case, it would set a dangerous precedent, making it practically impossible to prove racial discrimination in any case.

“Comcast/NBCUniversal teaming up with Donald Trump’s Department of Justice to eviscerate a civil rights statute in the U.S. Supreme Court is shameful, evil and the epitome of American institutionalized racism,” Allen told CultureBanx

DOJ Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on August 15 supporting Comcast, claiming companies were allowed to decide on contracts based on race as long as it was not the sole factor confirming a decision. 

Michael Foreman, the director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at Penn State, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that by backing Comcast, the government was essentially saying it is "OK to discriminate based on race, just don’t make that the significant part of the decision. I’m sure [Trump’s] thinking is, Let’s make it harder to sue for discrimination claims, and he’s taking that position at the Supreme Court.”

Allen, CEO of Entertainment Studios, has been at war with Comcast since he filed a $20 billion lawsuit against them in 2015. According to Forbes, Allen owns 43 syndicated television series, eight cable networks, The Weather Channel and a movie studio.

He already has deals with Verizon FiOS, DirecTV, AT&T/U-Verse and Dish Network. Allen says Comcast repeatedly lowballed him in negotiations and disrespected him because of his race.

"We allege that after multiple meetings with Comcast programming executives and after demonstrating our channels’ competitive ratings, critical acclaim and distribution by many of Comcast’s competitors, Comcast declined to carry any Entertainment Studios channels and instead carried similarly themed, lower quality channels that were not owned by minorities," Allen wrote in an op-ed for Deadline last month

"We also allege that a Comcast executive explained the decision by saying, 'we don’t need any more Bob Johnsons' — a reference to the African-American billionaire founder of the cable network BET, suggesting that Comcast did not want to do a deal with my company because of my race, " Allen continued.  

The law in dispute is the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which gave Black people equal rights in contracts after the Civil War. If the Supreme Court rules in Comcast's favor, Black people would have to prove that race was the sole factor in why a company did not sign a contract.

"The Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) is insisting that the US Supreme Court protect the rights of blacks and all Americans to do business without the vile presence of racism. [We] firmly [stand] by Entertainment Studios and its owner Byron Allen in his fight to uphold the 153-year-old civil rights act outlawing racism in business dealings," the Los Angeles Urban League said on August 29.

"In its petition to the Supreme Court, Comcast (with the support of the Department of Justice) is attempting to gut the Civil Rights Act of 1866, specifically section 1981, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and ethnicity when making and enforcing contracts," the LAUL continued.

Unfortunately, analysts have said the conservative Supreme Court is likely to rule in favor of Comcast and the Trump Administration, setting off a potentially devastating series of legal changes that will affect millions of Black Americans.

“If you choose to continue your attempt to eviscerate this civil rights law, we will have no choice but to call for a boycott of everything Comcast, effective immediately,” LAUL President and CEO Michael Lawson said in a statement. 

Drexel University law professor David S. Cohen told The Inquirer "a law that requires someone to say that race is the only reason for discrimination will be very hard to prove. This is a [Supreme Court] that is very conservative and tends to rule against civil rights plaintiffs. So the Trump administration thinks it has a good chance of winning.”

Comcast won the case three times in lower courts, but Allen secured a win in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing Comcast to petition the Supreme Court.

In interviews and op-eds this year, Allen has said Comcast is hiding behind its liberal-leaning shows while quietly squashing competitors in secret. The corporation was forced by the government to add four Black networks this year and ended up including AFRO, CLEO TV, Magic Johnson’s Aspire and Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Revolt.

"If all you did was watch Comcast’s MSNBC and NBC programming, you would never know that the company is quietly attacking civil rights in the U.S. Supreme Court right now, in an effort to deny us a fair shot at doing business with the company and, in the process, gutting the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and its prohibition against racial discrimination in contracting," Allen said in his op-ed.

"Comcast argues that an African American-owned business must show not only that the defendant considered race (which the statute forbids), but that the professed, hypothetical race-neutral reasons that could have motivated the defendant are false. In this case, that means Entertainment Studios would have to prove that race was the only reason Comcast refused to do business with it, not simply a major reason. The impact, of course, is to make it much, much harder for me and other Americans, today and in the future, to secure economic inclusion."

Political pressure on Comcast has risen as more groups come out in support of Allen and call for boycotts.

"Unfortunately, Comcast has chosen to use the U.S. Supreme Court to maximize its own profits. If Comcast thinks that we are wrong, it should go to trial and make its case. It should not challenge and put at risk all minorities’ ability to prove discrimination under the Civil Rights Act that has been in place for 153 years," Allen said.

"Coretta Scott King, the widow of the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a friend of mine and I’ll never forget what she told me. She said, 'Byron, as African Americans in this country, we had four major challenges. Number one, end slavery. Number two, end Jim Crow. Number three, achieve civil rights. And number four, the real reason they killed my Martin, achieve economic inclusion,'" Allen added.




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