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By Billboard

The case is now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sean “Diddy” Combs is hitting back at Comcast for using his name and REVOLT TV network to defend itself against the racial bias suit brought by entertainment magnate Byron Allen.

In the $20 billion suit, which Allen first filed in February 2015 and which is now being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the mogul accuses Comcast of racial discrimination based on its refusal to license several of his niche TV channels -- including Pets.TV, Cars.TV and Justice Central -- while nonetheless carrying what he claims were a number of “lesser-known, white-owned” networks. He claims that refusal was a violation of the Civil RIghts Act of 1866, which prohibited racial discrimination when making and enforcing contracts with African-Americans.

Allen's original suit also included civil rights organizations including the NAACP, the National Urban League and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network as co-defendants for allegedly helping Comcast to “whitewash” its discriminatory business practices by signing “sham” agreements with the company in return for financial donations and other payments (all of those organizations were later dismissed from the suit). Comcast signed the agreements, known as memorandums of understanding, in 2010 in order to allay fears that its not-yet-completed acquisition of NBCUniversal would have a negative effect on diversity.

In a statement released Thursday (Nov. 21), Combs responded to Comcast’s recent defense against Allen’s racial discrimination claims by citing its licensing deals with black-owned networks including Combs’ REVOLT and Oprah Winfrey’s OWN.

“The start we received from Comcast, which was a condition of the United States government approval for Comcast to acquire NBCUniversal, was important, but it is not the level of support needed to build a successful African American owned network. Not even close,” Combs’ statement reads. “Since that launch our relationship has not grown, and REVOLT is still not carried by Comcast in the most affordable packages nor is REVOLT available in all of the markets that would enable us to serve our target audience."

Combs continued, “Comcast spends billions of dollars on content networks every year, but just a few million go to African American owned networks like REVOLT. That is unacceptable. Supporting diversity and economic inclusion requires a real partnership. The only way Black owned networks grow and thrive is with meaningful and consistent economic support. Otherwise they are set up to fail. REVOLT has never been in a position to truly compete on a fair playing field because it has not received the economic and distribution support necessary for real economic inclusion. Our relationship with Comcast is the illusion of economic inclusion.”

Combs also took aim at Comcast’s argument that Allen should have to meet a “but-for” standard of proof -- meaning he would need to demonstrate that racial discrimination was the sole cause of Comcast’s refusal to license his channels -- in order for the suit to proceed. Allen is currently pinning his case on a prior decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that concluded the mogul needs only “plausibly allege” that racial discrimination was a factor -- not the only factor – in Comcast’s decision.

“Comcast is arguing that this law only applies if racial discrimination is the only factor that leads to a refusal to do business, which would be extremely hard to prove,” Combs' statement reads, echoing an argument that has been made by other civil rights groups and historians regarding the case. “If they are successful, it will become much harder for any victim of discrimination to seek justice in court. By taking this stance in the Supreme Court, Comcast has put its legal tactics ahead of the rights of millions of Americans to be heard. This is not OK.”

Comcast senior executive vp and chief diversity officer David L. Cohen sent Billboard the following statement in response to Combs:

“Comcast is proud of our strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, including an unmatched record of supporting diverse and independent networks, carrying 160 independent networks like Revolt, 100 of which are targeted to diverse audiences. We are also proud to have launched eight new minority owned cable channels since 2011, including being the first company to launch Revolt and to bring the channel into millions of homes. From the start, we provided a long-term commitment to carriage of the channel and to its success as well as other African American owned channels that we carry on our systems. We are fierce defenders of the civil rights of minorities and women in America – and of the civil rights laws. It has always been our intention to maintain the strength of the civil rights laws, and we believe a review of the oral argument at the Supreme Court demonstrates that. Based on the oral argument, any fears that this case would have broad implications on civil rights enforcement have been proven unfounded.”

Allen released his own statement in the wake of Combs', writing, "Today's statement from Sean 'Diddy' Combs proves our case. Mr. Combs' statement, and a lot more additional evidence from many others, is the reason Comcast does not want us to have our day in court, because Comcast knows we will prevail."

For its part, Comcast -- which is being backed in the case by both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. government -- is arguing that by lowering the standard of proof, the court “will punish and deter legitimate employment actions, disrupt workplaces, and impose unwarranted costs and reputational harms on businesses."

You can read Combs' full statement below.

My name and my network, REVOLT, have been mentioned recently by Comcast in reference to the Comcast/Byron Allen US Supreme Court case as an example of Comcast’s inclusive practices with respect to African American owned cable networks. While it is true that we are in business with Comcast, it is not accurate to use my name or my network as an example of inclusion. I do not want my name to be used inaccurately so I must speak my truth. I also want to make clear that this case is now about much more than cable distribution. It’s about the civil rights of millions of African Americans and other minorities.

First, it’s important that people really understand what’s at stake. In its efforts to get the lawsuit filed by Byron Allen dismissed, Comcast has taken a legal approach that could weaken fundamental civil rights protections. I have a problem with this. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 section 1981 was designed to ensure Black people are able to do business in this country and not be denied because of race. Comcast is arguing that this law only applies if racial discrimination is the only factor that leads to a refusal to do business, which would be extremely hard to prove. If they are successful, it will become much harder for any victim of discrimination to seek justice in court. By taking this stance in the Supreme Court, Comcast has put its legal tactics ahead of the rights of millions of Americans to be heard. This is not OK.

Above anything else, my goal has always been to achieve true economic inclusion for Black people. How can Comcast suggest that it champions diversity and inclusion if it attacks the laws that provide the foundation for economic inclusion? What good are any of their efforts if they are fighting to make it harder for victims of discrimination to be heard in court? Comcast has made this about much more than Byron Allen, and now the civil rights of my children and my community are at stake. To be clear, anything that makes it harder to fight against discrimination is wrong. Comcast is choosing to be on the wrong side of history.

On REVOLT, I can only share the truth of my experience. Starting an independent cable network is incredibly difficult and capital intensive. The start we received from Comcast, which was a condition of the United States government approval for Comcast to acquire NBCUniversal, was important, but it is not the level of support needed to build a successful African American owned network. Not even close. Since that launch our relationship has not grown, and REVOLT is still not carried by Comcast in the most affordable packages nor is REVOLT available in all of the markets that would enable us to serve our target audience. Comcast spends billions of dollars on content networks every year, but just a few million go to African American owned networks like REVOLT. That is unacceptable.

Supporting diversity and economic inclusion requires a real partnership. The only way Black owned networks grow and thrive is with meaningful and consistent economic support. Otherwise they are set up to fail. REVOLT has never been in a position to truly compete on a fair playing field because it has not received the economic and distribution support necessary for real economic inclusion. Our relationship with Comcast is the illusion of economic inclusion.

Rather than using this case to diminish the civil rights protections of millions of Americans, Comcast should use this as an opportunity to listen to a community it relies on and, above all, do better.


Billboard

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