Weekly Obsession: A rose for The Citizen

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 11:51am
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George Barrett

You just knew it would be George Barrett.

The man they call The Citizen is a lion of civil rights litigation with a history of prominent cases dating back to the sit-ins of the 1960s.

Now Barrett has his sights set on pop-culture phenomena: reality shows.

He is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in a suit filed last week in U.S. District Court alleging racial discrimination in the hiring practices of popular ABC shows The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

There have been 23 total seasons of the two shows and hundreds of roses handed out, but not once has the giver of blooms been a person of color.

“Never, over 10 years and a combined total of 23 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, has either show ever featured a single person of color — whether African-American, Latino, Asian, or any other minority race or ethnicity — in the central role of the ‘Bachelor’ or ‘Bachelorette,’” according to the complaint.

Barrett, along with Byron Perkins and Cyrus Mehri, represents two Nashville men, both former college football players: Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson (no, not that Chris Johnson).

The men have both tried out to be the Bachelor and said minority applicants for the job were given short shrift by the show’s executive producers.

“I noticed that the guys in front of me — the white males in front of me — took maybe 45 minutes to an hour, but I went up it took me maybe 15, 20 minutes. They rushed me through. They made me do a 360-degree turn. Once I did that, my interview was over,” Claybrooks said.

As far as Barrett knows — and, let’s face it, he would know — this is the first time a reality show has been the defendant in a discrimination suit.

And the legal team fully expects the suit to get class-action status before it’s all said and done — just as any employment discrimination suit does.

What makes this one different is that it’s taking on reality TV, an oft-mocked, but nonetheless profitable and repeatedly successful genre.

It’s a giant in a giant industry.

But then: George Barrett’s never been afraid to load up the slingshot.