Justices could return cable TV race bias suit to lower court

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seems likely to overturn a lower court ruling in favor of an African-American media mogul and comedian who’s suing cable giant Comcast for racial discrimination.

The justices appeared to be in broad agreement Wednesday that an appeals court applied the wrong legal standard in allowing business owner Byron Allen’s $20 billion suit against Comcast to go forward. Allen has a separate $10 billion lawsuit against Charter Communications.

Allen says the cable companies refuse to carry his television channels because he’s black. The companies say his programming isn’t very good.

The issue at the court is whether Allen needs to show in his complaint that race was among the factors in Comcast's decision not to offer him a contract or whether it was the decisive factor.

Alarmed by the Supreme Court’s intervention, civil rights groups have warned that the court could make it much harder to prove race discrimination in contracting under a civil rights law that dates to 1866.

A ruling for Comcast probably would not be the final word. Several justices indicated they think the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco should take another look.

A three-judge appellate panel allowed the Comcast suit to go forward after a federal judge dismissed it three times.

Allen’s Los Angeles-based Entertainment Studios has 10 television networks, including Cars.tv, Comedy.tv, Pets.tv, Recipe.tv and JusticeCentral.tv. Last year, he bought The Weather Channel. He also has a movie distribution company.

But Comcast and Charter Communications, the nation's two largest cable providers, have passed on carrying Allen's channels. The now-merged AT&T and DirecTV carry the channels after Allen sued them and they settled.

A decision is expected by late June.