Judge allows WISH-TV’s discrimination suit against AT&T to move forward

A federal judge has ruled that a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against AT&T by Circle City Broadcasting, which owns WISH-TV Channel 8 and WNDY-TV Channel 23, can move forward as the two companies battle over retransmission fees.

However, Indiana Southern District Court Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted AT&T’s request to dismiss a portion of the lawsuit that accused the company of defaming Circle City and its owner DuJuan McCoy, who is Black.

Regarding the discrimination claim, the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis ruled Wednesday that Circle City has “pled enough factual information to present, at the very least, a circumstantial case for intentional discrimination.”

The court said AT&T, in its request for dismissal, was asking too much by seeking to have the court begin determining the veracity of Circle City’s discrimination claims at this early stage of the litigation. The ruling said the issue at this point is not whether the plaintiff would prevail, but whether it is entitled to offer evidence to support its claims.

Circle City’s lawsuit, filed in August 2020, says the case is the result of AT&T refusing to negotiate a contract with Circle City because the stations in question are now owned by a Black man. “AT&T only deals fairly with historically more established broadcasters (namely, white-owned) when negotiating carriage agreements,” the lawsuit alleges.

AT&T has vehemently denied the allegations. “Circle City sued as a negotiating tactic only after we declined its demands for compensation above and beyond what similar independent stations receive,” AT&T said in a written statement last year.

McCoy has said AT&T offered his company “zero” for the retransmission of its stations on AT&T’s Uverse and DirecTV cable and satellite services.

AT&T told the Indianapolis Business Journal last year that the company applies “a non-discriminatory approach to these negotiations that ensures consistency and fairness while keeping fees low for our customers.”

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