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Will the Bachelor Discrimination Lawsuit Break New Legal Ground in Entertainment Law?


May 2, 2012
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Entertainment attorney NYCEntertainment lawyers are closely watching the discrimination lawsuit filed by Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, would-be contestants for ABC’s popular dating reality show The Bachelor. The plaintiffs contend that the racism is behind the shows’ failure to feature a Bachelor or a Bachelorette of color. The entertainment lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, names ABC, production companies Warner Horizon Television, Next Entertainment, NZK Productions and Bachelor executive producer Mike Fleiss as defendants. The lead plaintiffs are both African Americans and both applied to be on The Bachelor. According to the lawsuit, “All applicants of color, including plaintiffs Nathanial Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, have been denied the same opportunity as their white counterparts to compete for the role of the Bachelor and Bachelorette due to their race and/or color.” The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief to stop the exclusion of minorities from the leading roles in these shows as well as awards of punitive damages. Since Claybrooks and Johnson never made it past the application stage, this is not your typical employment discrimination lawsuit. Rather, it is premised on violations of federal and state civil rights laws, namely 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and California Civil Code §§ 51 and 51. The lawsuit maintains, “These laws guarantee equal opportunity to contract in business, commerce, and media regardless of one’s skin color.” While the legal basis may differ from a typical workplace discrimination lawsuit, the parties will contend with many of the same legal issues. For instance, the plaintiffs will have to show that casting decisions were in fact motivated by race and not other lawful considerations. Meanwhile, the shows’ producers can bolster their position by demonstrating that they did take steps to seek out diverse contestants for the dating shows. Both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have been previously criticized for their lack of diversity. However, until discovery is exchanged and the inner workings of the casting process are exposed, we won’t know whether any unlawful discrimination was involved. This looks to be an interesting case with the potential to shake up how reality television shows are casted, so stay tuned.