- New York Attorney General Letitia James pressed Madison Square Garden Entertainment about its reported use of facial recognition technology to identify opposing lawyers.
- Madison Square Garden is home of the NBA team the New York Knicks and the NHL team the New York Rangers.
- MSG Entertainment boss James Dolan threatened to ban liquor sales at a Rangers game to prove a point over the controversy.
New York Attorney General Letitia James wants to hear from Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corporation about the company's reported use of facial recognition technology at its venues.
MSG Entertainment has reportedly used the technology to identify and deny entry to multiple lawyers affiliated with law firms involved in ongoing litigation relating to the company, including those with season tickets. According to a letter she sent the company Tuesday, approximately 90 law firms were impacted by this policy.
The prevention of lawyers from accessing MSG Entertainment's venues due to ongoing litigation could violate local, state and federal human rights laws, James wrote.
MSG Entertainment owns and operates venues across New York including Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and the Hulu Theater.
"MSG Entertainment cannot fight their legal battles in their own arenas," James said Wednesday in a release announcing her letter. She's seeking a response from MSG Entertainment by Feb. 13.
"Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall are world-renowned venues and should treat all patrons who purchased tickets with fairness and respect," she said. "Anyone with a ticket to an event should not be concerned that they may be wrongfully denied entry based on their appearance, and we're urging MSG Entertainment to reverse this policy."
Madison Square Garden Entertainment responded to the letter later Wednesday.
"To be clear, 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," a spokesperson said in a statement.
"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."
MSG Entertainment CEO James Dolan on Thursday said he would not back down on the facial recognition fight. "Not at all," he told Fox 5's "Good Day New York."
He also took a shot at the New York State Liquor Authority, saying the regulatory has been in touch with the company, threatening to take away its liquor license.
"So I have a little surprise for them. They're basically doing this for publicity, so we're going to give them some publicity. What we're going to do, right, is we're going to pick a night, maybe a Rangers game, and we're going to shut down all the liquor and alcohol in the building," Dolan said. "This isn't going to bother me because I've been sober 29 years. I don't need the liquor."
Instead, he said, MSG would post signs telling fans that if they'd like to drink at a game, they should contact Sharif Kabir, the liquor authority's CEO. Dolan held up a mockup of a sign, which includes Kabir's email address and a phone number.
The SLA commented later Thursday, following Dolan's remarks.
"All establishments licensed to traffic in alcoholic beverages by the State Liquor Authority are subject to and are expected to comply with the same laws and obligations, whether they are a small business or a multi-billion dollar corporation," the regulator said. "After receiving a complaint, the State Liquor Authority followed standard procedure and issued a Letter of Advice explaining this business' obligation to keep their premises open to the public, as required by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law."
In her letter, the attorney general also wrote that facial recognition software used by MSG Entertainment may not be fully reliable and could result in instances of discrimination and bias, particularly against people of color and women.
The company has said in the past it's been compliant with applicable laws, including those involving discrimination.
Late last year, Kelly Conlon and her daughter were denied entry to Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular show after she was identified by facial recognition software. Conlon is an associate with law firm Davis, Saperstein and Solomon, which has been involved for years in personal injury litigation against a restaurant venue under MSG Entertainment.
"MSG instituted a straightforward policy that precludes attorneys pursuing active litigation against the Company from attending events at our venues until that litigation has been resolved," a spokesperson for MSG Entertainment said at the time. "While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adverse environment."