Supreme Court to Review Racial Bias Claim Against Comcast

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a bid by cable operator Comcast Corp. to throw out racial bias claims accusing the company of discriminating against black-owned television channels.

The justices will review a decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that cleared the way for a $20 billion civil rights lawsuit against Comcast to proceed. At issue in the litigation is the refusal by Comcast to carry channels operated by Entertainment Studios Networks, owned by African-American comedian and producer Byron Allen.

The justices did not act on a similar appeal by Charter Communications involving claims by Allen. That case will likely be guided by the outcome in Comcast’s appeal.

The cable operators said their business decisions were based on capacity constraints, not race, and that Allen’s channels, including JusticeCentral.TV, Cars.TV, Pets.TV and Comedy.TV, did not show sufficient promise or customer demand to merit distribution.

Entertainment Studios Networks sued in Los Angeles federal court, accusing the cable companies of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which forbids racial discrimination in business contracts.

The suits pinned the rejections primarily on racial discrimination, accusing cable executives of giving insincere or invalid excuses and granting contracts to carry white-owned networks during the same period.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)