Today’s unanimous decision restores common sense and uniformity to the pleading threshold for discrimination claims under § 1981.
Cory Andrews, WLF Vice President of Litigation

WASHINGTON, DC—A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court today overturned a Ninth Circuit decision that would have made it nearly impossible for defendants to win pretrial dismissal of even frivolous discrimination claims. The decision was a victory for WLF, which filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that, unless Congress specifies otherwise by statute, a plaintiff seeking to prevail on a discrimination claim must show that the defendant’s discriminatory conduct was the “but-for” cause of the alleged injury. Today’s ruling vacated an unpublished decision of the Ninth Circuit, which allowed a plaintiff to plead a discrimination claim merely by alleging that discrimination was “a factor” in the defendant’s decision-making, even if the defendant would have made the same decision had discrimination not been a factor.

At issue before the Court was 42 U.S.C. § 1981, a statute that prohibits racial discrimination in the making of contracts. The plaintiff, Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), is a small, minority-owned television-program provider that has been unable to persuade major cable operators to carry its programming. ESN sued Comcast (and all the other large cable providers) under § 1981, alleging racial discrimination. Comcast denied the claim, insisting it denied a contract because ESN did not show adequate viewer interest in its programming. ESN’s complaint alleged no facts suggesting discriminatory motives; it merely claimed that its programming was at least as popular as the programming of non-minority companies that received contracts.

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