A class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday accused ABC, along with an individual and the companies involved in production of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," of intentionally excluding people of color from lead roles on the shows' past 23 combined seasons.
The complaint alleges that ABC and the other defendants have only hired white applicants based on "the calculation that minorities in lead roles and interracial dating [are] unappealing to the shows’ audiences...a conscious attempt to minimize the risk of alienating their majority-white viewership and the advertisers targeting that viewership."
The suit was brought by Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, two African-American men living in Nashville who applied to be on “The Bachelor” in 2011.
Johnson alleges in the complaint that when he went to a casting call for “The Bachelor,” he was denied the typical application process. He said his application materials were taken by an employee of the defendants named in the suit; the same wasn’t done for other apparent non-black applicants he saw.
Claybrooks alleges that at his casting call for the show he was interviewed for less time than white applicants, rushed through the process, and therefore not given the same opportunity as the white applicants.
The complaint asserts that “Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Claybrooks were well-qualified to become the next 'Bachelor'” as they are “outgoing, personable people who are upstanding members of their community." Thus, the complaint alleges "upon information and belief" that "their applications were never seriously considered by defendants because of their skin color.”
In addition to Claybrooks and Johnson, the complaint was filed on behalf of all other people of color who’ve attempted to land “the role of the 'Bachelor' or 'Bachelorette' but [have] been denied the equal opportunity for selection on the basis of race,” as the lawsuit alleges.
The complaint goes on to posit that neither “The Bachelor” nor “The Bachelorette" has featured “a single person of color – whether African-American, Latino, Asian, or any other minority race or ethnicity — in the central role." Put another way, “in 16 seasons of 'The Bachelor' and 7 seasons of 'The Bachelorette,' every person featured in the lead role on either show has been white.”
The complaint also alleges that there are few people of color chosen to compete for the affection of the “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette,” and when there are, they tend to be eliminated early.
It claims that "the absence of a Bachelor or Bachelorette of color over 23 seasons is not due to a lack of qualified applications from people of color. Rather, minority applicants are purposefully provided less than an equal opportunity on the basis of race."
ABC declined to comment on the suit, while another defendant, Warner Horizon Television, called the complaint "baseless and without merit" in a statement to CNN.
The production company says they've had "various participants of color throughout the series' history, and the producers have been consistently – and publicly – vocal about seeking diverse candidates for both programs. As always, we continue to seek out participants of color for both 'The Bachelor' and "The Bachelorette.'"
(Warner Horizon Television is one of the production companies for "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." It is part of Warner Bros. Entertainment, which is owned by the same parent company as CNN.)
The other defendants named in the suit include the shows' executive producer, Michael Fleiss, Next Entertainment and NZK Productions.
The plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages on their behalf, as well as for those who fall under the class, in addition to an injunction mandating that ABC and the other defendants consider non-white applicants for the two lead roles and develop policies to ensure casting occurs without consideration of skin color.