(CN) - Two black men who auditioned unsuccessfully for "The Bachelor" cannot pursue discrimination claims against the reality television show's creators, a federal judge ruled.
Nathanial Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson say they each applied to be "The Bachelor," but never reached higher level casting staff after being frozen out with a perfunctory interview.
In 23 broadcast seasons of "The Bachelor," and its spin-off "The Bachelorette," the titular role has never been filled by a nonwhite individual. Claybrooks and Johnson say nonwhite contestants vying for the affection of the bachelor or the bachelorette are also eliminated early, meaning the show usually has an all-white cast.
Their April complaint in the Middle District of Tennessee sought an injunction to ensure the hiring of minorities and an adjusted elimination process that represents minority contestants more fairly in later episodes.
U.S. District Judge Auleta Trouger dismissed the case Monday after agreeing with the creators, including executive producer Michael Fleiss and American Broadcasting Co., that the First Amendment bars claims over the casting decisions.
The 23-page decision notes that an alternative ruling would have broad reach on various programs and networks.
"For example, the legality of any network targeting particular demographic groups would be called into question, including, inter alia, the Lifetime Network (targeted to female audiences), the Black Entertainment Channel (targeted to African-Americans), Telemundo (targeted to Latinos), the Jewish Channel, the Christian Broadcast Channel, the Inspiration Network (targeted to Protestants), and LOGO (targeted to gays and lesbians)," Trouger wrote. "Similarly, the content of any television show that does not have a sufficiently diverse cast would be or would have been subject to court scrutiny, such as 'The Jersey Shore' (all white cast members), 'The Shahs of Beverly Hills' (a show about Persian-Americans living in Los Angeles), 'The Cosby Show' (a show with an African-American cast), and 'The Steve Harvey Show' (a show with an African-American lead actor and supporting cast)." (Parentheses in original.)
Trouger did not stop there. "Would applying anti-discrimination laws require a playwright to consider white actors to play Othello, black actors to play Macbeth, or a male to play Lady Macbeth?" he asked. "For that matter, could a dramatist face civil liability for staging an all-female version of 'Romeo & Juliet'?"
Ultimately, television producers have unilateral control under the First Amendment to control their own creative content, according to the ruling.
"The plaintiffs' goals here are laudable: they seek to support the social acceptance of interracial relationships, to eradicate outdated racial taboos, and to encourage television networks not to perpetuate outdated racial stereotypes," Trouger wrote. "Nevertheless, the First Amendment prevents the plaintiffs from effectuating these goals by forcing the defendants to employ race-neutral criteria in their casting decisions in order to 'showcase' a more progressive message."
Trouger dismissed the complaint with prejudice and denied all other pending motions as moot.
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