If you only know Byron Allen as a television (TV) personality from your youth, you may be surprised to find out that he’s become a media mogul. His company Entertainment Studios, which he started 25 years ago, is involved in movies, TV and digital media.
Now Allen is facing off against cable giant Comcast Corp. before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among his supporters is Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush.
The dispute began in 2015 when Allen filed a lawsuit against Comcast for $20 billion. He claimed that the company refused to carry the channels owned by his company because he’s African American. His suit cites the Civil Rights Act of 1866. One section of that law, which states that all people have the right to engage in contracts, was intended to help newly emancipated slaves.
Comcast argued that its decisions regarding Allen’s networks had nothing to do with his race. (It continues to carry the Weather Channel, which Allen recently acquired.)
Although Allen’s suit was rejected by a district court judge three times, he got a more favorable ruling in an appeals court. It ruled that he only needed to prove that discrimination could be one reason why Comcast didn’t carry his channels — not that it was the sole reason.
Comcast appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. They’re being asked to determine whether discrimination must be the only reason or just one factor behind a business decision for a discrimination suit to have merit.
The Justice Department, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations are siding with Comcast. They argue that a ruling in Allen’s favor would result in frivolous discrimination suits.
A number of civil rights groups have supported the appeals court’s interpretation. However, they haven’t specifically come out in support of Allen’s lawsuit.
Rep. Rush has. In a letter to Comcast’s chief executive officer, Rush (who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee) said he was “dismayed” that the company was violating the historic civil rights law. He said, “Comcast has enjoyed the largesse…of the African American and other minority communities, and has reached such prominence that it now disregard[s] these communities….” He even called for the break-up of the company.
Civil rights laws from decades and even centuries ago can be applied to any number of present-day situations. If you believe you have a civil rights claim, it’s essential to seek experienced legal guidance.