A racial discrimination suit against a leading cable company may move forward, U.S. appeals court says
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the case had been decided. In fact, the case has not yet been argued, and the ruling by the Ninth Circuit decided a procedural question that will allow the lawsuit to continue.
A racial bias lawsuit involving one of the nation’s largest cable companies will be allowed to proceed after a black-owned provider of television programming alleged it had been discriminated against, a federal appeals court has ruled.
Not only did racial animus pose a plausible factor when Charter Communications repeatedly rejected negotiations with Entertainment Studios, the TV programmer, but the First Amendment cannot be used to throw out the suit, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The three-judge panel’s decision on the free speech issue holds particularly sweeping implications, some legal experts say, because it could undercut a rising trend of companies citing the First Amendment to defend business practices or to attack regulation.
The opinion on Charter’s motion to dismiss also marks a victory for the 25-year-old programming firm founded by comedian Byron Allen, which bought the Weather Channel in March and accused Charter executives in court of hurling racist insults at Allen and other black Americans in numerous encounters.
In one alleged instance, Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge called Allen, who is black, “boy” at an industry conference and advised him to change his behavior, according to court documents. In another alleged example, the court said, Charter’s senior executive in charge of programming, Allan Singer, approached a group of black protesters outside Charter’s offices to tell them to “get off of welfare.”
Charter told the court that its decision not to carry Entertainment Studios was not related to race but rather other factors, such as that the company lacked operational resources.