Tuesday, February 5, 2019

NAAAOM V. Charter Communications

The panel filed (1) an order withdrawing its prior opinion and denying, on behalf of the court, a petition for rehearing en banc, and (2) a superseding opinion affirming the district court’s denial of a cable television-distribution company’s motion to dismiss a claim that its refusal to enter into a carriage contract with an African American-owned operator of television networks was racially motivated, and in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

In the superseding opinion, reconsidering the court’s approach to the causation standard for § 1981 claims under Metoyer v. Chassman, 504 F.3d 919 (9th Cir. 2007), following the Supreme Court’s decisions in Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167 (2009), and Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338 (2013), the panel held that a plaintiff need not plead that racial discrimination was the but-for cause of a defendant’s conduct, but only that racial discrimination was a factor in the decision not to contract such that the plaintiff was denied the same right as a white citizen. The panel concluded that Gross and Nassar undercut Metoyer’s approach of borrowing the causation standard of Title VII’s discrimination provision. The panel instead looked to the text of § 1981, and it held that mixed-motive claims are cognizable under § 1981.

The panel held that the plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the defendant’s treatment of the African American-owned operator, and its differing treatment of white-owned companies, were sufficient to state a viable claim pursuant to § 1981. The panel also held that plaintiffs’ § 1981 claim was not barred by the First Amendment. The panel concluded that the fact that cable operators engage in expressive conduct when they select which networks to carry did not automatically require the application of strict scrutiny. The panel concluded that at most intermediate scrutiny applied, and § 1981 would satisfy intermediate scrutiny because it was a content-neutral statute and was narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest in preventing racial discrimination. The panel remanded the case for further proceedings.

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