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OP-ED: What’s at stake in Byron Allen’s Supreme Court Showdown with Comcast

Maurita Coley | 11/13/2019, 8:58 p.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard on Wednesday arguments in a suit between Comcast and Byron Allen, a prominent African American ...

If the Supreme Court gets to decide this case, it seems very likely that – at a minimum – the court will choose the “but for” standard that is currently used in most jurisdictions outside the 9th Circuit. That would be a major setback to the civil rights community’s advocacy for establishing nationwide the 9th Circuit’s broader “motivating factor” standard. It’s even conceivable that this conservative Supreme Court could go even farther, exploiting the facts of Mr. Allen’s private contract claim to justify an even more regressive outcome by applying the “but for” standard in EEO retaliation, fair housing, voting rights, or other claims.

Civil rights groups such as NAACP have jumped into this case, filing amicus briefs that seek to convince the court not to embrace the “but for” standard. What I suggest now is that the civil rights groups try to persuade both parties to help get us out of this precarious place in history. To do that, it’s essential that Allen withdraw his $20 billion lawsuit, and that Comcast withdraw its petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court — ideally before the Nov. 13, 2019, oral argument or soon after.

Given Allen’s huge success as an African American businessman, these channels cannot be so important to him that it’s worth placing all of our civil rights at risk. Likewise, Comcast, which ranks No. 2 on Fortune’s list of 100 best workplaces for diversity and has one of the strongest records of programming diversity in the industry, should demonstrate those values by withdrawing its petition for Supreme Court review if Allen also agrees to step back from the ledge.

Both parties should close their eyes, take a leap — and hold their noses if they must — but do their part to take this case off the docket of a deeply conservative court. Otherwise we might all find ourselves facing an uncertain future, stripped of key civil rights protections.

No contract or channel is worth the risk.

The op-ed was first published in the Morning Consult on November 13, 2019.

Maurita Coley, a veteran communications attorney and former executive at BET Networks, serves as president and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom, and Internet Council.