04/19/2012 at 01:30 PM EDT
Over the course of 10 years, 23 Bachelors
have looked for love on ABC's hit reality franchise – each one of whom was white. And that, a lawsuit alleges, is no accident.
"This is a civil rights issue," attorney George Barrett said Wednesday in Nashville after filing a class-action lawsuit in federal court.
"ABC has engaged in conduct deliberately excluding persons of color."
Nathaniel Claybrooks, 39, and Christopher Johnson, 26, both African-American former college football players, answered an open casting call for The Bachelor
in Nashville last August. They claim they were rushed through the audition process dismissively while observing white applicants treated with greater attention.
"I never even had a chance," says Claybrooks.
"In every job opportunity, you are looking to at least have a chance to compete for that job," addss Johnson. "Whenever you feel you are treated unfair or unjust, you are going to speak out."
The lawsuit alleges that ABC "knowingly, intentionally and as a matter of corporate policy refused to cast people of color in the role of the Bachelor and Bachelorette."
Warner Horizon Television, which produces the shows, calls the lawsuit "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," says the statement. "As always, we continue to seek out participants of color for both The Bachelor
and The Bachelorette.