New York’s AG says MSG lawyer ban may violate anti-bias laws

Jan 24, 2023, 10:53 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 1:58 pm
FILE - Fans line up outside Madison Square Garden before an NBA basketball game between the New Yor...

FILE - Fans line up outside Madison Square Garden before an NBA basketball game between the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors in New York, Feb. 23, 2021. New York's attorney general said Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, that Madison Square Garden may be violating anti-bias laws with its practice of barring lawyers from firms involved in litigation against MSG from its venues including Radio City Music Hall and the Garden itself. (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman, File)

(AP Photo/Brittainy Newman, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s attorney general warned the owner of Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday that it may be violating anti-bias laws with its practice of barring lawyers from its venues if they work for firms suing the company.

The attorney general’s office said in a letter to MSG Entertainment that the ban — and the company’s use of facial recognition technology to enforce it — may violate anti-discrimination laws and may dissuade lawyers from taking on cases such as sexual harassment or job discrimination claims against the company.

“MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas,” Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall are world-renowned venues and should treat all patrons who purchased tickets with fairness and respect.”

The lawyer ban came to light in October 2022 when attorney Larry Hutcher, a longtime New York Knicks season ticket holder, was told that his seats had been revoked because his law firm was representing ticket resellers suing MSG. He filed a lawsuit in response.

Since then, other lawyers have come forward with stories about being blocked from concerts, sports events and shows including the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular.

The policy potentially affects thousands of lawyers at scores of firms and is being enforced through the use of technology that scans the faces of people entering venues owned by MSG and checks them against a databank of lawyers from banned firms.

The attorney general’s office said research has shown that facial recognition software “may be plagued with biases and false positives against people of color and women.”

The attorney general is asking MSG to respond by Feb. 13 and identify efforts the company is making to ensure compliance with applicable anti-discrimination laws.

In a statement, a representative for MSG said the policy “does not unlawfully prohibit anyone from entering our venues and it is not our intent to dissuade attorneys from representing plaintiffs in litigation against us. We are merely excluding a small percentage of lawyers only during active litigation.”

The statement continued, “Our policy has never applied to attorneys representing plaintiffs who allege sexual harassment or employment discrimination.”

MSG representatives have previously also said it wasn’t “unreasonable” that MSG would want to protect against “improper disclosure and discovery” during active litigation.

New York state lawmakers introduced a bill earlier this week that would prohibit sports venues including Madison Square Garden from refusing entry to perceived enemies of their owners.

An MSG spokesperson said the bill’s sponsors were siding with “attorneys representing ticket scalpers and other money grabbers.”

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New York’s AG says MSG lawyer ban may violate anti-bias laws