A group of Nashville residents led by football players Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson said Tuesday they will file a class-action lawsuit against the ABC dating competition series The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for racial discrimination. The potential plaintiffs point out that over 10 years of the show and 23 seasons, the programs have not featured a single person of color as the featured Bachelor or Bachelorette.
Attorneys for the prospective plaintiffs put out a news release saying they will be filing a complaint in federal court on Wednesday morning against ABC, production companies Warner Horizon Television, Next Entertainment, NZK Productions and Bachelor executive producer Mike Fleiss, and they have scheduled a news conference to speak about the topic.
Claybrooks and Johnson, both African Americans, are being represented by three law firms: Barrett Johnston, Mehri & Skalet and Perkins-Law. Claybrooks is listed as a linebacker on the roster of the Nashville Storm, a minor-league team, while Johnson (not the star running back for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans) played wide receiver at Tennessee State and is preparing to try out for NFL teams.
The lack of minority faces on the show has been a curiosity of some analysts even before this lawsuit, and some outlets have even made suggestions. Groups representing African Americans and Hispanics have long complained about the shortage of lead minority actors on scripted shows, but the emergence of reality television was hoped to solve issues of diversity. As Nina Tasser, president of CBS Entertainment told the Los Angeles Times in 2009, “When you’re casting for an unscripted show, it’s a much bigger universe and a whole different talent base.”
Glen Rothstein, an attorney at Blank Rome, says a viable claim can exist if the class of would be contestants can establish that they were denied an opportunity to compete on the basis of race.
“In order to prevail, however, at a minimum, the plaintiffs will more likely than not have to present at least some additional evidence above and beyond the fact that the programs have never featured a single person of color as the Bachelor or Bachelorette,” he says. “The plaintiffs will ultimately have to prove that a race based component relating to the selection process exists that was implemented in a discriminatory and unlawful manner.”
ABC declined comment.
Last year, Entertainment Weekly asked Fleiss whether The Bachelor would ever feature someone who wasn’t white. Here was his reported response:
“I think Ashley is 1/16th Cherokee Indian, but I cannot confirm. But that is my suspicion! We really tried, but sometimes we feel guilty of tokenism. Oh, we have to wedge African-American chicks in there! We always want to cast for ethnic diversity, it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”