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Comcast wins Supreme Court case over interpretation of civil rights law

Enlarge / Byron Allen onstage during his 4th Annual Oscar Gala to Benefit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles at the Beverly Wilshire on February 9, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Greg Doherty)

Comcast has won a US Supreme Court case against Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), dealing a major blow to Allen’s attempt to prove that Comcast’s refusal to carry ESN channels was motivated by racial bias.

The key question taken up by the court was whether a claim of race discrimination under the 42 U.S.C. § 1981 statute can proceed without a “but-for causation.” As the Legal Information Institute explains, a “but-for test” asks “but for the existence of X, would Y have occurred?”

The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2018 that the case could proceed because ESN “needed only to plausibly allege that discriminatory intent was a factor in Comcast’s refusal to contract, and not necessarily the but-for cause of that decision.” The Supreme Court ruling issued yesterday reversed that decision, saying that a “plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the plaintiff’s race was a but-for cause of its injury, and that burden remains constant over the life of the lawsuit.”

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