SEAL Team discrimination lawsuit explained (What to know)

SEAL Team is being hit by a wild real-life lawsuit! Just what is it all about?
SEAL Team episode 609 streaming on Paramount+, 2022. David Boreanaz as Jason Hayes, Neil Brown Jr. as Ray Perry, AJ Buckley as Sonny Quinn. Photo Credit: Bonnie Osborne/Paramount+
SEAL Team episode 609 streaming on Paramount+, 2022. David Boreanaz as Jason Hayes, Neil Brown Jr. as Ray Perry, AJ Buckley as Sonny Quinn. Photo Credit: Bonnie Osborne/Paramount+ /

SEAL Team is currently prepping for its final season on Paramount+. However, the show is now in the midst of a real-life legal battle! Here’s what to know about this strange lawsuit!

The series has long been an under-the-radar success for CBS. It started in 2017 as a drama about a military unit taking on dangerous missions around the world. Midway through season 4, it moved to Paramount+, allowing it to cut loose with darker storylines, more adult language, and be free of network constraints. 

The show has been doing well, wrapping up season 6 in November 2022. It was renewed for a seventh and final season, which should hit either later this year or in early 2025. Yet right now, the biggest drama with the show is happening off-camera. 

In February 2024, writer Brian Beneker filed a lawsuit against CBS, arguing that discrimination kept him from being hired as a full-time writer for SEAL Team. He had penned a few episodes for the series but claims he was ignored because of his race, which is white. 

Per TVLine, the suit had Beneker arguing that he was passed over as a writer for the show for six others with less experience than him. According to him, the hires included a “Black male” and “Black woman” (both hired in season 3), a “white” “female former writer’s assistant” (hired in season 5), a “Black” “female writer’s assistant” (hired in season 6), a “white,” “lesbian” “female writer’s assistant” (also hired in season 6), and a “white” “female writer’s assistant” (hired in season 7).

These hires came after a 2020 initiative by CBS to a have minimum of 40% BIPOC representation in their writers’ rooms. According to Beneker’s suit, this “created a situation where heterosexual, white men need ‘extra’ qualifications (including military experience or previous writing credits) to be hired as staff writers when compared to their nonwhite, LGBTQ, or female peers.”

Beneker is not only seeking damages but also to be hired as a writer and full-time producer (despite how the show is ending with its next season). So just how is CBS responding?

CBS’ response shows why the lawsuit will fail

In a statement, CBS made it clear that the First Amendment is a key protection against this lawsuit. 

"An entity engaged in expressive communication may select individuals whose presence or absence would affect the entity’s ability to communicate its own preferred message. Limiting CBS’s ability to select the writers of its choice — as Beneker seeks to do here — unconstitutionally impairs CBS’s ability to shape its message. It is not relevant to this analysis that Beneker disagrees with CBS’s alleged stance on diversity in writers’ rooms. The rule of speaker’s autonomy applied in [precedents] means that CBS, not Beneker (or the government), has the sole right to decide what artistic content to produce and how to produce it. The rule also means that CBS, not Beneker (or the government), is solely entitled to decide what messages it seeks to convey in its artistic content and what associations might advance or impair those efforts."

Putting aside the legal talk, this means that as a private entity, CBS has the right not to hire as they see fit and simply didn’t think Beneker would fit as a writer for this show. Per TVLine, the network added that "two of the six SEAL Team hiring decisions cited by Beneker fall outside of the statute of limitations, while three others are not cognizable because the hired writers were of the same race (white) as Beneker."

This indicates that the lawsuit will fail as it’s going to be hard for Beneker to prove he was any more capable of becoming a writer than the people who were hired. That’s without the big issue, which is that a self-professed “white heterosexual male” arguing he’s being discriminated against is going to be a tough sell to a jury. 

Beneker is being backed by former Trump White House advisor Stephen Miller’s nonprofit America First Legal Foundation, so he is pushing to get more attention. However, this is hardly the first time a writer has filed such a suit against a network that went nowhere and, at the moment, this lawsuit may die a quicker death than anyone on SEAL Team.

Seal Team seasons 1-6 are streaming on Paramount+.