A proposed class action alleges Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment Corp. has illegally weaponized consumers’ biometric data to systematically identify and eject from its iconic New York venues any attorney, litigant or employee of a law firm that “dares to file a lawsuit” against the company.
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The 25-page privacy suit contends that MSG Entertainment Corp. has “leveraged this threat of exclusion (and unceremonious on-site expulsion) from the epicenters of New York City entertainment”—including Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theatre—to intimidate those involved with challenging it in court and essentially chill attempts to file legal action against the company.
The case alleges that the goal of MSG Entertainment’s apparent “litigation deterrent policy” is to profit from its misuse of facial recognition technology by slashing the event giant’s “significant litigation expenses.” This profit-minded initiative not only “shocks the conscience” but violates New York City’s Biometric Data Protection Law, which, among other things, prohibits companies from profiting from consumer biometric data, the complaint argues.
According to the filing, each MSG Entertainment venue utilizes facial recognition technology to capture biometric data—unique physical or biological characteristics that can identify an individual—from consumers who enter an event. As the case tells it, the company maintains a database of biometric information associated with individuals who have been banned from its venues—namely attorneys or so-called “business foes” related to law firms that have sued MSG Entertainment.
When a patron enters one of the company’s venues, their facial geometry is scanned and analyzed against the database of banned people, the suit says. If there is a match, that individual is “unceremoniously ejected” from the site, the complaint relays.
The filing scathes that MSG Entertainment—owned by New York Knicks and Rangers owner James Dolan—has weaponized its facial recognition system and consumers’ sensitive biometric data to bully litigants and their attorneys. This “shameless” policy has led to “hardworking, decent people being banned—and, in some cases, thuggishly evicted” from MSG Entertainment’s properties, the suit charges.
MSG facial recognition policy aims to “publicly humiliate and intimidate,” lawsuit says
According to the case, the number of attorneys ejected from MSG Entertainment venues continues to grow, and many who have been tossed by the company have opened up to the media about their experiences. In turn, the case relays, news outlets have reported numerous stories of individuals—some of whom have no involvement with any litigation against the defendant—having been removed unceremoniously from MSG venues based on their facial scans.
For example, in November 2022, a mother chaperoning her daughter on a Girl Scouts field trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes was identified by MSG Entertainment’s facial recognition system and removed by security simply because she worked for a law firm that filed a suit against the company, the complaint shares. As the filing tells it, the woman played no part in the lawsuit that led to her expulsion from Radio City Music Hall.
In a similar instance, a 61-year-old personal injury and civil rights lawyer was ejected from Madison Square Garden by security in January 2023 merely because he worked for a firm that was suing MSG Entertainment at the time, the filing states.
Another time, MSG Entertainment revoked a man’s Knicks season tickets weeks after the attorney filed a complaint against the company in September 2022, the lawsuit states, noting that the individual, a dedicated Knicks fan, had held the tickets for almost 50 years.
The message of this campaign is clear—if you sue MSG [Entertainment], not only you, but those associated with you may never again be able to watch your favorite sports team in its home venue, see an exclusive performance by your favorite artist or comedian, take your children to see the Rockettes at Christmas, attend a convention, or more generally, set foot in any of these iconic and culturally significant venues for any purpose.”
Per the suit, the defendant’s conduct has “deservedly drawn almost unprecedently broad and public condemnation” from prominent public officials and members of the judiciary.
In fact, several New York lawmakers sent a letter to the company in January of this year insisting that it stop using its facial recognition system to identify and expel individuals from its venues, the case explains. In response, and “[consistent] with the shameless spirit” of its policy, MSG Entertainment simply “disinvited” one of the lawmakers from dropping the puck at an upcoming Rangers hockey event at Madison Square Garden, the complaint reports.
Despite the public outrage, MSG Entertainment Corp. “has not flinched” and remains “remarkably undeterred,” even in the face of numerous denouncements by government officials, ranging from New York Attorney General Letitia James to the state’s Liquor Authority, the filing says.
For many consumers, going to events at the iconic venues owned by MSG Entertainment is a “centerpiece of the rich and varied cultural life offered by New York City,” the suit shares. In this light, the case contends, being banned by the company amounts to more than a simple exclusion from one location—it means that a consumer is barred from a handful of venues that are “at the center of culture and entertainment in New York City and the world.”
“Subjecting oneself to a ban under [the defendant’s policy] in order to take on a lawsuit may represent a change in lifestyle for some New Yorkers, could mean exclusion from time-honored family traditions, or could mean missing the opportunity to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event,” the complaint emphasizes.
For many lawyers, “it is simply not worth it,” the filing says.
Bringing a claim against MSG, no matter the nature or merit of it, means foregoing participation in cornerstones of New York City’s rich entertainment landscape, and perhaps enduring the humiliating experience of being publicly removed by security in front of family and friends.”
MSG’s conduct “plainly” violates New York law, case alleges
The lawsuit stresses that in order for MSG Entertainment to effectively implement its financially beneficial “litigation deterrent policy,” it must collect and use biometric data from “each and every consumer” who enters one of its venues. Per the suit, MSG Entertainment’s “blatant profiteering” from consumer biometric data “falls squarely within the conduct prohibited” by the New York City Biometrics Law, which, as of July 9, 2021, bars businesses from selling, trading or otherwise profiting from a transaction of biometric information.
According to the case, the company has also breached a New York civil rights law by using consumers’ images for commercial or “trade purposes” without their consent.
The complaint charges that the company’s “abusive use of facial recognition technology, through which it uses consumer biometric data for its own pecuniary gains, plainly violates [individuals’] fundamental rights to privacy.”
Who’s covered by the lawsuit?
The case looks to represent anyone who, at any time since July 9, 2021, visited a Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. venue in New York City and had their biometric data collected by the company’s facial recognition technology system.
How do I join the lawsuit?
Normally, there’s nothing you need to do to join or be included in a proposed class action lawsuit when it’s first filed. If the case settles, class members—that is, people covered by the settlement—may receive direct notice of the deal via email and/or regular mail with instructions on the next steps and their legal rights. Consumers typically need to act only if the case reaches a settlement, usually by filling out and filing a claim form online or by mail.
It’s not unusual for class action lawsuits to take months or even years to be resolved, so it pays to be patient.
In the meantime, if you’ve attended any venue owned by Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., or simply want to stay in the loop on class action lawsuit and settlement news, sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter.