By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - A federal judge has dismissed a civil rights lawsuit filed by two black men who said they were rejected for the starring role of "The Bachelor" on the popular ABC reality television show because of their race.
The discrimination suit filed by Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson in Nashville federal court argued that ABC had never cast a person of color - African-American, Hispanic or Asian - in the show's central role as a matter of policy.
The men's goals were "laudable," but the rights of the show's producers to control their creative content are protected by the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled on Monday in dismissing the case.
Claybrooks and Johnson had sued ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co, Warner Horizon Television Inc, which produces the show, Next Entertainment Inc, NZK Productions Inc and executive producer Michael Fleiss in April.
"We felt from the outset this case was completely without merit and we are pleased the court has found in our favor," WB Entertainment spokesman Paul McGuire said on Tuesday. Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc.
An attorney representing Claybrooks and Johnson could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The two reality shows in question, "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," follow a man or woman's search for a mate that is chronicled through dates with a couple of dozen contenders until a selection is made on the season-ending episodes.
Claybrooks, a former college football player and an entrepreneur, and Johnson, a teacher and football coach, said when they filed their lawsuit that their auditions for the show were perfunctory compared with those for the potential white bachelors.
Claybrooks and Johnson "seek to support social acceptance of interracial relationships, to eradicate outdated racial taboos, and to encourage television networks not to perpetuate outdated racial stereotypes," Trauger wrote.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."
"The Bachelor" debuted on ABC in 2002 and "The Bachelorette" started the next year. As of the filing of the lawsuit in April, neither show had featured a person of color in the leading role and the vast majority of contestants had been white.
(Editing by David Bailey and Peter Cooney)