A U.S. District Court judge moved forward a $10 billion lawsuit against Charter Communications for alleged discrimination in contracting in violation of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit on behalf of African American-owned media networks is being spearheaded by Byron Allen, comedian and CEO of Entertainment Studios Networks, Inc. (ESN). Based in Los Angeles, ESN owns seven, 24-hour HD cable television networks serving nearly 80 million subscribers. ESN is the parent company of theGrio.com.
Calling it a historic ruling, ESN claims to have direct and circumstantial evidence of racial bias harbored by top-level Charter executives with decision-making authority and the discriminatory treatment that ESN suffered at the hands of these executives.
Fighting for Diversity and Inclusion
“Everybody talks about diversity, and everybody complains about the lack of diversity and economic inclusion,” said Allen in a statement. “Today, we made history by doing something about it. This lawsuit was filed to provide distribution and real economic inclusion for 100% African American-owned media. The cable industry spends $70 billion a year licensing cable networks and 100% African American-owned media receives ZERO. This is completely unacceptable. We will not stop until we achieve real economic inclusion for 100% African American-owned media.”
In the past few years, Allen has been trying to get his channels licensed by major cable operators through FCC filings, litigation, and coordinated press releases, according to the Hollywood Reporter. One judge threw out his racial discrimination lawsuit against Comcast as implausible. On the other hand, he was able to secure carriage for a few of his channels on DirecTV through a settlement with AT&T after bringing suit, reports HR.
Battle for Nation’s Large Cable Operator
Charter Communications, under the branding of Charter Spectrum, provides services to over 25 million customers in 41 states. It reportedly is the second-largest cable operator in the United States by subscribers, just behind Comcast. In early May 2016, Charter acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks for reportedly a combined $65.5 billion.
“Charter will now have to open up ALL their contracts which will show the world that they do not do business with 100% African American-owned media out of the billions of dollars they spend on programming every year,” said Mark DeVitre, president of the National Association African American-Owned Media, said in a press statement. “Simply put, the contracts and the numbers do not lie, and they will show racial discrimination, lack of economic inclusion for African American-owned media, and blatant racism.
He went on to say. “In my opinion, Charter’s CEO, Tom Rutledge, has done his stockholders a huge disservice by not sitting down with us, but instead pretending Reverend Al Sharpton speaks for all African Americans which in itself is racist.â€