Byron Allen Tries Again in Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Comcast

2012-03 BIZ NATPE Byron Allen H
Gari Lamar Askew

Byron Allen says he could sell his company for $1 billion.

Given a green light to amend a $20 billion lawsuit, Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks has now filed new court papers against Comcast and Time Warner Cable alleging there are "two separate paths for contracting for channel carriage: one for non-minority-owned channels and a separate, but not equal, process for African-American-owned channels."

The amended complaint comes after U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. shot down the original version, ruling that he couldn't infer any liability even accepting the plaintiffs' version of facts.

Together with the National Association of African-American Owned Media, Allen's studio paints voluntary diversity agreements that Comcast entered into at the time of the 2010 NBCUniversal acquisition as a sham, used to "facilitate its racist practices and policies in contracting."

The plaintiffs no longer are suing Al Sharpton and other African-American advocacy groups for allegedly facilitating discrimination, though the amended lawsuit continues to tell how they are allegedly part of the problem.

Now, the plaintiffs bring up other channels that have suffered in the past few years. That includes the Black Family Channel, backed by attorney Willie Gary and former athletes Cecil Fielder and Evander Holyfield, as well as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Network and a producer who wished to launch a Soul Train network.

The amended complaint states there is a "MOU Process" — tracing back to the 2010 memorandum of understanding — that African-American-owned channels must endure if they wish carriage on Comcast. But the cable company supposedly "limits the number of carriage agreements it will enter into through the MOU Process and offers inferior contracting terms."

And the channels that Comcast has made available through the MOU — Revolt, Aspire, the Africa Channel are listed as examples — fall short in plaintiffs' eyes because they "are owned, controlled, and backed by white-owned media and money," including those with inside connections to Comcast.

Here's the full complaint.

Here was Comcast's strong attack against the original version. There, the defendant told the judge that the dispute was "an ordinary business grievance masquerading as a racial discrimination claim" and further, that "African-Americans who do not meet Plaintiffs’ peculiar notions of racial identity are offensively labeled as 'token fronts' and 'window dressing.'"

In reaction to the amended complaint, a Comcast spokesperson says, "While we do not generally comment on pending litigation, the continuation of this frivolous lawsuit continues to represent nothing more than a string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations. We are proud of our outstanding record supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African-American-owned and -controlled cable channels. We currently carry more than 100 networks geared toward diverse audiences, including multiple networks owned or controlled by minorities. We will continue to defend vigorously against the allegations in this complaint and fully expect that the court will dismiss them, just as they already have once.”

The plaintiffs are also pursuing a separate racial discrimination lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV. According to one legal newswire, that lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss after the defendants objected on First Amendment grounds.