Two Nashville residents filed a lawsuit Wednesday suing ABC's "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" for intentional exclusion of persons of color.
Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson are requesting class action status for the case. Class action is a form of lawsuit in which a group of people collectively bring a claim to court, allowing others to join.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Nashville at 1:30 p.m.
The suit alleges, in part, ABC purposefully discriminates against men and women of color when casting "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette", because they are worried about losing viewership, a majority of whom is white.
Attorneys for the men point out that in over 10 years and a combined total of 23 seasons of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," neither show has featured a person of color in the central role as the "Bachelor" or "Bachelorette."
Both Claybrooks and Johnson are African American football players and attended the open casting call for "The Bachelor" at Hotel Indigo in Nashville last summer.
"I only wanted a fair shot at the part. Looking back at how I was treated at the casting call last year, it was clear that wasn't possible. I never even had a chance," Claybrooks said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Claybrooks said he was given a 20 minute interview, while he noticed white men around him were getting at least 45 minutes with producers.
Johnson added, "I knew at the time that there had never been a non-white Bachelor before, but I thought that a minority candidate with my qualifications would at least be considered. In reality, it seems they never seriously looked at non-white candidates."
Johnson said he didn't even get to have an interview. He was told he could leave after handing a producer his application materials.
"Whenever you feel as though you are treated unfair and unjust, you're going to speak out," Johnson told Nashville's News 2. "As this show has exposed, people of color have not had that opportunity."
Cyrus Mehri, an attorney for the two men, said, "We look to make an impact, and that's what this case is about, this is impact litigation."
He added, "One of the great things about class action is that it can be a vehicle for change, and that's what's going to happen in this case."
ABC told Nashville's News 2 Tuesday evening they would not be commenting on the lawsuit.
Thirty-nine-year-old Claybrooks was an All-American linebacker at MTSU and later played for the semi-professional football team, the Nashville Storm from 2001-2011.
Claybrooks now owns two small businesses in Nashville, a barber shop and an auto detail business.
Johnson, 26, played wide receiver at Tennessee State University and is preparing to tryout for NFL teams.
In September 2009, Claybrooks was one of 20 African American plaintiffs named in a lawsuit suing Metro Government and Nashville Electric Service for a hostile work environment.
At the time, Claybrooks was employed as a meter reader for Metro. His attorneys say the suit has been settled and Claybrooks now works for NES.
Both Claybrooks and Johnson said they stepped forward with the lawsuit in hopes of bringing about change.
Mehri added, "This is about hope and change."
She said there are between dozens and hundreds of other applicants of color who may join the lawsuit.
Mehri would not comment on how much money they are seeking from ABC.
On Wednesday night, Nashville's News 2 spoke with two men who appeared on season four of "The Bachelorette" in 2004 when Deanna Pappas was searching for love.
Thirty-two-year-old Ryan Hoag, of Minneapolis, and 31-year-old Jeffrey Harris, of Orlando, both said they feel it was no coincidence they were cast on the show.
"I fit into a certain category they were looking for," Hoag told Nashville's News 2 by phone, "I was a pro-football player that happened to be a 28-year-old virgin, so therefore they were going to cast me."
Harris said he originally auditioned to be "The Bachelor" but was turned down.
"I just innocently wanted to find love. I applied online, received a call back from a casting director that told me I was better suited for "The Bachelorette." I wasn't even given the shot to be on "The Bachelor" for whatever reason that they had," he said. "I think it's unfair."
According to the show's casting release form, the "producer has no obligation" to accept certain applicants.
While Hoag and Harris said they do not plan to join the lawsuit, they don't necessarily believe the process for selecting the shows lead role may be entirely fair.
"I believe I had that the qualities to be in that position, so why wouldn't they even consider me or even give me an interview," questioned Harris.
Hoag added, "For all I know it's simply a financial and business decision, but does it seem like it's an equal opportunity? I doubt it."
In a statement issued late Wednesday, Warner Horizon Television, who is also named in the suit, said, "This complaint is baseless and without merit. In fact, we have 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.'"