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Arguments Being Heard In Race Discrimination Case

Arguments are being heard in a race discrimination case that started on November 13. In the case of Comcast Corp v. National Association of African-American Owned Media, a black-owned television network operator called Entertainment Studios Network (ESN) seeking a business relationship with Comcast, but was allegedly turned away due to race. The case has potential implications for law dealing with contracts and race. However, as of this writing, it remains unclear as to the direction the Supreme Court will take.

42 U.S.C 1981

The law at issue is Section 1981 of the U.S. Code, which dates back to 1866. The law specifically establishes that all people “within the jurisdiction of the United States” can enjoy the “full and equal benefit” of the laws and protections that are in force for white citizens. This provision is primarily used nowadays in contract disputes either in business or in individual employment matters, but more specifically in cases where an employment contract has been declared null and void.

In this day and age, most employment-based racial discrimination cases are brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, in a case that involves contractual rights in employment, 42 U.S.C 1981 can provide more coverage. This is because the Civil Rights Act does not specifically discuss contracts—rather, it discusses issues of inequity and inherent rights that everyone should have in the workplace. South Carolina is an at-will state, meaning most employees do not have contracts, but those who do have certain protections that employers must honor.

Causation Issues

In Comcast Corp, the appellant states that since race was allegedly one significant factor in Comcast’s decision to not enter into a contract with Entertainment Studios, Comcast was in violation of 42 U.S.C 1981. Comcast, however, argues that the law requires “but-for” causation—that is, a showing that the contract would have been made had ESN been helmed by white investors. The law appears to be on Comcast’s side, as past decisions have declined to adopt the more lax “significant factor” test.

In the first day of arguments, however, several justices appeared disinclined to hold to the ‘but-for’ standard, arguing that it would be too difficult for a plaintiff to establish that race was the deciding factor in failing to abide by a contract. As of this writing, it appears as though the justices will remand the case to the lower court, urging it to arrive at a solution that strikes a balance between the two standards. It should not be so difficult for plaintiffs to establish discriminatory intent, but it should also not be so easy that employers have no defense.

Contact An Experienced Attorney In Your Case

While the arguments are still being heard in this race discrimination case, it is worth understanding your options if you have been discriminated against in contracting because of your race. An employment lawyer may be able to assist you in seeking redress for what you have been through, and attorney A. Christopher Potts has years of experience in dealing with these matters. The firm of Hitchcock & Potts is happy to assist you. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.

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