A group of Black media owners have filed a $20 billion federal lawsuit against Comcast, Time Warner, Inc., the Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP and the National Urban League alleging that the companies discriminated against them and paid the omnipresent activist to “whitewash” their discriminatory practices, the Washington Post writes.
Further, the complaint (PDF) alleges that Comcast gave large donations to Sharpton and civil rights groups to help generate the perception that the company was promoting diversity, although it reportedly was failing to do so, the Post says.
The suit was filed Friday in Los Angeles federal court by Entertainment Studios, which was founded by Black producer and comedian Byron Allen and the National Association of African-American Owned Media (NAAAOM), the newspaper writes. The suit comes as regulators weigh a $45 billion merger between Comcast and TWC. The complaint charges that the companies have refused to do business with Allen and other Black media, the Post notes.
Michael A. Hardy, a lawyer for Sharpton’s Harlem-based civil rights organization, the National Action Network, blasted the suit, calling it “frivolous,” according to an email statement released Monday.
“National Action Network has not been served with any papers and considers this claim frivolous,” Hardy states. “If in fact we were to be served, we would gladly defend our relationship with any company as well as to state on the record why we found these discriminatory accusations made by said party to be less than credible and beneath the standards that we engage in.”
The Washington Post reports about the suit:
“Comcast has engaged in, and is engaging in, pernicious, intentional racial discrimination in contracting,” it reads. Whether or not it gets anywhere is another question. Anyone can file a lawsuit alleging anything and claiming any amount of money.”…
The lawsuit also accuses Sharpton, the National Action Network (the non-profit civil rights organization he founded in 1991), the NAACP and the National Urban League, claiming that the groups signed “sham diversity agreements” with Comcast in exchange for donations, knowing that the cable company would leverage the agreements to mask its discriminatory practices.
In an email to the Washington Post, Comcast communications director John Demmings called the lawsuit “frivolous” and that company’s negotiations with the plaintiff have been in good faith.
In 2010, Comcast signed a “memorandum of understanding” with civil rights groups as part of an effort to win approval for its merger with NBC Universal. In the agreement, the cable company committed to adding 10 new minority owned and operated networks, at least four of which would be run by African Americans. Sharpton, who lobbied for the merger in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission and signed on to the memorandum, said that the company’s 2010 meeting with minority leaders was the most important factor in his decision to support Comcast’s bid.
He was given a job as host for MSNBC’s PoliticsNation in August 2011, six months after the merger was approved — a move that raised questions about a potential conflict of interest. The complaint alleges that the position was part of a quid-pro-quo deal for Sharpton’s approval of the merger, as was $140,000 in donations to his National Action Network. (A Comcast spokesperson confirmed that number to the Daily Beast in 2011.)
“They pay him a little bit of money instead of spending the tens of millions and billions they should be paying to the black community,” Allen said.
Hardy fired back at at the suit in the statement, saying, “As for Rev. Sharpton’s TV show ratings the numbers are clear. Rev. Sharpton’s show has the highest ratings of any 6 p.m. show in the history of the network.”
Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, also dismissed the complaint against his organization.
“The National Urban League has not yet been served with any papers regarding this meritless lawsuit, but the sheer absurdity of the claims demand that we address the situation now,” Morial says in a statement. “The National Urban League has led the fight for civil rights and diversity and inclusion in America—especially Corporate America—since our revered former President, Whitney M. Young, successfully forged partnerships with CEOs like Henry Ford II and others around shared goals of providing more jobs and training for people of color in business.”
The Federal Communications Commission is slated to rule on the Time Warner and Comcast merger in March.