In a rare public interview, James Dolan, CEO of Madison Square Garden Entertainment said he is considering halting beer sales at an upcoming Rangers game as his dispute over facial recognition software used to ban attorneys from MSG-owned venues escalates.
If he follows through, he said he would put signs urging fans to contact the State Liquor Authority head if they want beer sales to resume in an an apparent effort to rile up the fan base against a threatened liquor license revocation by the SLA.
And that drew an angry retort from New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who is sponsoring a bill that would bar Dolan from using the technology to block the attorneys by extending a 1941 law that originally allowed theater critics to gain access to Broadway shows--even if an owner wanted to ban them for criticizing the shows or its owners.
“James Dolan is the poster child of privilege, as someone who inherited his wealth and receives an annual $43 million dollar tax break from New Yorkers,” said Hoylman-Sigal, whose west side Senate district includes Madison Square Garden. He said it is “not surprising” that Dolan has taken to “publicly humiliating honest and hardworking civil servants like the CEO of the State Liquor Authority.”
Dolan claims that Hoylman is “grandstanding” instead of doing more to curb crime in the city.
At the core of the escalating feud: at least four attorneys whose firms have pending suits against MSG Entertainment–which owns the Knicks, the Rangers, Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall–have been stopped from entering MSG-owned venues for sports or entertainment events after facial recognition software identified them as lawyers working for firms that have pending litigation against MSG.
NY State Senator Liz Krueger has also pushed the State Liquor Authority into examining whether such bans violated state discrimination laws, which could result in revocation of the SLA license to sell liquor at sports and entertainment events staged by MSG Entertainment. And the SLA sent a letter to Dolan in late November warning him that he was in danger of being considered a “non bona fide” server of alcoholic beverages if he was refusing to serve a certain class of customer.
But in an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox’s Channel 5 on Jan. 26, Dolan told co-host Rosanna Scotto that he planned to beat the SLA to the punch and might halt the beer sales himself as a way to rile up fans against the SLA.
“That group is way over their skis,” Dolan said of a letter he’s received warning him that banning certain classes of people could put him jeopardy of losing his SLA license to sell beer, wine and liquor. “They’re being extremely aggressive, and they’re saying, ‘We’re gonna take away your liquor license. So I have a little surprise for them.”
“They’re doing this for publicity, so we’re gonna give them some publicity,” said Dolan. “What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna pick a night, maybe a Rangers game, and we’re gonna shut down all the liquor and alcohol in the building.”
He said he would put up a sign saying if you want to have alcohol served at Rangers games, contact the SLA chief Sharif Kabir. He held up a handmade sign with the contact info.
That move would not sit too well with long time Rangers fans. “He’s [Dolan’s] crazed,” said one fan who did not want to be identified for fear of losing his own season tickets that he’s held for over 30 years. “The lawyers should sue him for not admitting them to a public venue. He’s a vindictive person and if he cuts off beer, that ultimately hurts his bottom line.”
Dolan added in the Channel 5 interview that he has been sober for 29 years so a ban on beer and alcohol sales would not personally bother him.
”If you sue us, we’re gonna tell you not to come,” he said. “and if you’re grandstanding and threatening our liquor license, I’m gonna tell you, you know what, take away our liquor license.”
”If you’re being sued it’s a personal thing,” he told Scotto.
Meanwhile, his problems seem to be escalating. The feud with the attorneys was the subject of ABC’s investigative show Nightline on Jan. 26. “Dolan has to be stopped,” said Benjamin Pinczewski, one of the four attorneys who was booted at the door of MSG. He said he is the son of Holocaust survivors and worries who else might be targeted if facial recognitions technology goes unchecked. “Hospitals dont do this. The city doesn’t do this. Where will it end?” he said.
The NY State Attorney General Letitia James has the civil rights division looking into whether his ban against attorneys whose firms are suing him violates civil rights laws.
Aside from the four attorneys who were stopped at the gate of either Madison Square Garden or Radio City Music Hall, the New York Times reported that up to 90 law firms have received notices that none of the attorneys working for those firm will be allowed to attend events until such litigation is concluded--even if they are not personally handling the case. Dolan claims that it’s impossible to determine which attorneys in a law firm are working on a case and it creates an “adverserial” and “confrontational” environment between the firms and MSG.
The NYS Attorney General appears skeptical of that claim in its letter to MSG Entertainment. “We write to raise concerns that the policy may violate New York Civil Rights Law and other city, state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination and retaliation for engaging in protected activity,” said the letter signed by Kyle S. Rainan, in the civil rights bureau of the State Attorney General’s office.
”And attempts to dissuade individuals from filing discrimination complaints or encouraging those in active litigation to drop their lawsuits so they may access popular entertainment events at the Company’s venues may violate state and city laws prohibiting retaliation,” the letter continued.
The letter also points out the company’s use of facial recognition software “may be plagued with biases and false positives against people of color and women.”
It asks for a response to the letter from MSG Entertainment by Feb. 13th. Dolan said that the state Attorney General is “just asking questions” and “we intend to answer them.”
NYS Senators Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Tony Simone are sponsoring bills that would extend the protection afforded to theater critics at Broadway shows--under a civil rights law passed in 1941--to attorneys and other fans at sporting events. “It’s an extension of an existing law,” said Hoylman-Sigal who said he expects it will have no trouble getting reported out of committee and passed in the Democratic controlled Senate and Assembly.
“That group is way over their skis.” Madison Square Garden Entertainment CEO James Dolan, on the State Liquor Authority.