March 23, 2020
Decided March 23, 2020
Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, No. 18-1171
Today, the Supreme Court held 9-0 that a plaintiff who sues for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 must plead facts plausibly showing that the discrimination was a “but-for” cause of the challenged action.
The Civil Rights Act of 1866—codified, in relevant part, at 42 U.S.C. § 1981—prohibits discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts. Entertainment Studios Network (ESN) sued Comcast, alleging that Comcast’s decision not to carry several ESN television channels was motivated by racial bias. The district court dismissed the complaint three times, the final time without leave to amend. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that ESN stated a claim under Section 1981 simply by alleging that race was a “motivating factor” in, rather than a but-for cause of, Comcast’s decision.
Whether a plaintiff who brings a claim for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 must allege that the challenged action would not have occurred but for the discrimination.
Yes. To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff suing for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 must plead facts plausibly showing that race was the but-for cause of challenged action.
“[A] plaintiff bears the burden of showing that race was a but-for cause of its injury. And, while the materials the plaintiff can rely on to show causation may change as a lawsuit progresses from filing to judgment, the burden itself remains constant.”
Justice Gorsuch, writing for the unanimous Court
Gibson Dunn represented the winning party: Comcast Corporation
What It Means:
The Court’s opinion is available here.
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