(Adds details from decision, background, comments, byline)
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by 10 black male contestants on “American Idol” who accused the singing competition show, its producers, sponsors, and the Fox television network of racial discrimination.
The plaintiffs, who competed between 2003 and 2010, said they were disqualified from “American Idol” for reasons other than singing or artistic talent, including criminal histories, and that the show was “rigged” to favor white contestants.
U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan, however, said nearly all claims in the 322-page complaint should be dismissed because they were brought too late.
She also said Chris Golightly, a 2010 contestant who brought the four remaining claims, did not show the defendants targeted him because of his race.
Among the defendants are production and distribution company FremantleMedia NA, which is part of Bertelsmann’s RTL Group; producer Nigel Lythgoe; Fox parent Twenty-First Century Fox Inc , Coca-Cola Co and Ford Motor Co.
The defendants have denied any discrimination. Four of the show’s 13 winners have been black or biracial.
Golightly was disqualified after producers learned he had been under contract as a member of the boy band “DREAM5,” although he said he was released before his “American Idol” audition.
Buchwald said a white contestant had been disqualified for the same reason in the 2009 season and that this “further undermines any claim that Golightly was unfairly singled out for disqualification on account of his race.”
The other plaintiffs included Jaered Andrews, twins Derrell and Terrell Brittenum, Corey Clark, Thomas Daniels, Ju’Not Joyner, Jacob John Smalley, Akron Watson and Donnie Williams.
Matthew Scott Martin, a lawyer for the Brittenums and Clark, said: “We are disappointed in the result, and we are reviewing the court’s order to determine our next course of action.”
James Freeman, a lawyer for the other plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Daniel Petrocelli, a partner at O’Melveny & Myers representing the defendants, declined to comment.
The case is Andrews et al v. FremantleMedia NA Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-05174. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Von Ahn)