Judge Lets Byron Allen Discrimination Suit vs. Charter Proceed

Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks said a federal judge in Los Angeles denied a Charter Communications request to dismiss a lawsuit, which was recently amended, against the cable company, claiming racial discrimination under the Civil Rights Act and seeking $10 billion in compensation.

U.S. District Judge George H. Wu said Charter had not "to this point" convinced the court to dismiss the complaint on First Amendment grounds and said he would allow the lawsuit to continue, according to a copy of the opinion that ESN provided in a news release. ESN said the judge's opinion was issued as a tentative ruling at the start of a hearing on Monday (Oct. 24) and made final at the end of the hearing. 

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Skip Miller, partner at Miller Barondess LLP, representing the plaintiff, called the judge's decision "a huge victory for my client." Miller continued in a statement: "The judge addressed the complexities of this case and discovery will commence immediately. We have direct and circumstantial evidence that we put forth in our lawsuit. We have evidence of racial bias harbored by top level Charter executives with decision-making authority, and allege, in detail, the discriminatory treatment ESN suffered at the hands of these executives. These well-pleaded allegations, combined with Charter’s internal racial issues, lack of contracting and doing business with 100% African American-owned media, were sufficient to defeat Charter’s Motion to Dismiss and we look forward to trial by jury. Separately, we fully expect the dismissal of ESN’s $20 billion lawsuit against Comcast to be overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where we are under appeal.” 

The complaint recounts unsuccessful efforts by Allen to gain carriage for ESN programming on Charter cable systems, which now have more than 17 million customers with Charter having acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. The complaint also alleges "discriminatory behavior" and "derogatory racist comments about African Americans" were made by Allan Singer, Charter's former senior vice president of programming. ESN also claims Allen tried to speak with Charter CEO Tom Rutledge at the Cable Hall of Fame dinner in Boston on May 16 and that Rutledge "refused, making a dismissive hand gesture and calling Allen a 'Boy,' a term with racial connotations." 

Charter, through a spokesman, said: "This lawsuit is a desperate tactic that this programmer has used before with other distributors. We will not comment further at this time."

In addition to the lawsuit against Comcast that was dismissed in August, Allen's company and the National Association of African American Owned Media sued AT&T in a multi-billion-dollar discrimination lawsuit that AT&T settled and that later resulted in ESN networks gaining carriage on AT&T-owned DirecTV and U-verse TV. 

ESN programming includes the channels Comedy.TV, Justice Central, Recipe.TV, ES.TV, MyDestination.TV, Cars TV and Pets TV which, according to the complaint, ESN offered to Charter as a package for 10 cents per subscriber.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.