Comcast, Charter racial discrimination suits headed to trial

Byron Allen (Entertainment Studios)

A federal appeals court has denied attempts by Comcast and Charter to dismiss lawsuits filed by Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios claiming violations of the Civil Rights Act.

The plaintiffs—Entertainment Studios and the National Association of African-American Owned Media (NAAAOM)—filed the lawsuits after claiming that both Comcast and Charter for years refused to carry any of the Entertainment Studios’ networks, which include Pets.tv, Comedy.tv, Recipe.tv, Cars.tv, Es.tv, Mydestination.tv and Justicecentral.tv.

The $20 billion case against Comcast and the $10 billion case against Charter are now cleared to head to court for the trial and discovery process.

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"These two decisions against Comcast and Charter are very significant, unprecedented and historic," said Allen in a statement. "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."

"These decisions are hugely important in terms of opening the courts to African American-owned media. The court paved the way to our eventual success at trial by ensuring that the proper 'mixed motive' standard for our claims—a lower standard of proof than the 'but for' standard argued by Comcast and Charter—applies," said Entertainment Studios' attorney, Skip Miller, partner in Miller Barondess. "Additionally, the court dismissed Charter's and Comcast's attempts to use the First Amendment as a shield for their alleged discrimination. I very much look forward to trying these cases. And I give Mr. Allen tremendous credit for having the will and the constitution to invest the capital and resources to pursue them relentlessly."

RELATED: Byron Allen walks back racism accusation, says statement went out by mistake

Charter called the lawsuit a “desperate tactic” that Entertainment Studios has used before.

“We are disappointed with today’s decision and will vigorously defend against these claims,” a Charter spokesperson said in a statement.

Comcast did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For Comcast, the legal fight with Entertainment Studios comes as the company just announced carriage agreements with two new African American majority owned independent networks Afro and Cleo TV. Comcast plans to begin offering the channels on its cable system in January 2019.

“The offerings from both Afro and Cleo TV serve as an excellent complement to the growing catalog of programming choices we offer about global black communities,” said Keesha Boyd, executive director of multicultural products at Comcast Cable, in a statement. “We remain committed to delivering a wide array of programming by partnering with independent networks, such as the two we’re announcing today, to better serve our increasingly diverse customer base.”