Madison Square Garden lawyer ban challenged

Businesses can choose their customers, but only to a point.

Racial discrimination is illegal (but discriminating against gays is not, according to the Supreme Court’s conservative justices).

Madison Square Garden (MSG), which also owns Radio City Music Hall (RCMH), bans lawyers working for law firms representing clients suing them from its venues (read story here).

CEO James Dolan (photo, left) defended the ban by saying, “If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome the person into your home.”

It’s a ridiculous, disingenuous argument. MSG isn’t his house. It’s a place of business, where the rules are different. It’s not entitled to the privacy of a personal home.

Why shouldn’t businesses be allowed to pick and choose who’s welcome on their premises? Well, nobody’s saying retail stores can’t ban shoplifters, or that restaurants can’t require reasonable dress codes (“no shirt, no shoes, no service”). And private clubs can limit entry to members. But that shouldn’t mean anything goes.

To illustrate the principle involved, if you’re file a consumer complaint with Home Depot over a transaction there, can they ban you from ever shopping in their stores again? Consumer protection laws say no, because that would give the store unfair leverage over customers, and deter consumers from pursuing valid complaints.

The New York Knicks, an NBA basketball team, plays at MSG. One of the banned lawyers has been a Knicks season-ticket holder for 50 years. Denied entry to the arena, he’s suing MSG’s parent company. Having sold him the tickets, it’s hard to see how this doesn’t violate consumer protection laws. Meanwhile, New York’s state attorney general warned the company its lawyer ban also violates civil rights laws.

It doesn’t just violate the rights of the banned lawyers. It also affects the ability of ordinary citizens to get legal representation. And it opens the door to much broader repression of legal rights. A civil rights group said, “Who will actually go to court against the country’s largest companies if they can retaliate this way? If New Yorkers can be banned from a Rangers game, they can be banned from the grocery store or the pharmacy.”

As a hypothetical, what if a company extended such a ban to persons who testified against it in court proceedings? Wouldn’t that constitute witness intimidation and witness tampering? That’s a criminal offense.

The implication of the attorney general’s warning is that if Dolan doesn’t change his policy, the state is going to seek an injunction. By the way, James Dolan isn’t just a CEO. His family owns a controlling interest in the company he works for. His father, Charles Dolan, is the billionaire founder of Cablevision and HBO. The Dolan family also owns the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, an NHL hockey team.

This is an arrogant billionaire flexing his corporate muscles to push the legal system aside. The general public should hope he doesn’t get away with it.

Return to The-Ave.US Home Page

Comments are closed.