The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a black-owned company that charged Comcast Corporation, one of the nation’s largest cable operators, violated Section 1981, the nation’s oldest civil rights law, when it refused to carry the firm’s programing for racial reasons.
In a unanimous 20-page decision the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case titled Comcast Corporation versus National Association of African American-owned Media that Comcast did not violate Section 1981 when it refused to sign an agreement with Byron Allen’s company, Entertainment Studios Network to carry its channels.
“The plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the plaintiff’s race was a but-for cause of its injury, and that burden remains constant over the life of the lawsuit,” the Court ruled.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments November 13, 2019, and issued its decision March 23, 2020.
Comcast refused to carry the channels, citing a lack of demand for ESN’s programming, bandwidth constraints and its preference for news and sports programming that ESN did not offer,” according to the majority opinion written by Associate Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
When negotiations failed between the two companies, ESN sued Comcast, seeking billions of dollars in damages.
“ESN didn’t dispute that, during negotiations, Comcast offered legitimate business reasons for refusing to the carry ESN’s channels.
ESN contended these reasons were merely pretextual to obscure its true discriminatory intentions and win favor with the Federal Communications Commission. ESN also charged that Comcast paid civil rights groups to advocate publicly on its behalf.”
The Supreme Court’s decision reversed a Ninth Circuit Court ruling in favor of Allen’s company.
“We vacate the judgement of the court of appeals and remand the case for further proceedings,” Gorsuch wrote. “A plaintiff bears the burden of showing that race was a but-for cause of its injury.”