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New York AG criticises MSG venues for denying entry to lawyers involved in litigation against the company

By | Published on Thursday 26 January 2023

Madison Square Garden Company

New York’s Attorney General Letitia James has sent a letter to MSG Entertainment following reports that the company is using facial recognition technology at the venues it operates in New York City to identify and deny entry to lawyers who work for law firms currently involved in any litigation against the business.

Reports began circulating last year – including in the New York Times – that MSG now had a policy of using its facial recognition technology to spot and block lawyers entering its venues, if those lawyers had clients currently suing the business.

James says that those reports indicate that employees at no less than 90 law firms might be denied entry to an MSG venue because of that policy.

“We write to raise concerns that the policy may violate the New York civil rights law and other city, state, and federal laws prohibiting discrimination and retaliation for engaging in protected activity”, her letter states.

“Such practices certainly run counter to the spirit and purpose of such laws, and laws promoting equal access to the courts: forbidding entry to lawyers representing clients who have engaged in litigation against the company may dissuade such lawyers from taking on legitimate cases, including sexual harassment or employment discrimination claims”.

The AG also notes that “research suggests that the company’s use of facial recognition software may be plagued with biases and false positives against people of colour and women”.

With all that in mind, she requests: “By 13 Feb 2023, please respond to this letter to state the justifications for the company’s policy and identify all efforts you are undertaking to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and that the company’s use of facial recognition technology will not lead to discrimination”.

James then concludes: “Discrimination and retaliation against those who have petitioned the government for redress have no place in New York”.

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

“Anyone with a ticket to an event should not be concerned that they may be wrongfully denied entry based on their appearance”, she added, “and we’re urging MSG Entertainment to reverse this policy”.

In response to the letter from James, MSG insisted that its policy in this domain is legal. “To be clear”, it said in a statement, “our 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”, it added. “Most importantly, to even suggest anyone is being excluded based on the protected classes identified in state and federal civil rights laws is ludicrous. Our policy has never applied to attorneys representing plaintiffs who allege sexual harassment or employment discrimination”.

So there you go. Maybe MSG’s policy in this domain is compliant with all the relevant laws, maybe it isn’t. Though, either way, I think we can all agree that it qualifies as – to use the legal jargon – “a bit of a dick move”.