Jay-Z’s Rocawear Court Battle Halts After He Cites Racial Discrimination In Arbitration

The rap mogul says the selection of 'a token number' of African-American arbitrators violated New York state and city laws.

Jay-Z poses for photo in suit and bow tie.
Michael Kovac / Getty Images

The rap mogul says the selection of 'a token number' of African-American arbitrators violated New York state and city laws.

Jay-Z’s claim of racial discrimination in the arbitration of his ongoing trademark dispute against Iconix Brand Group Inc. has proven successful in temporarily halting the suit.

In a decision that the Guardian quotes attorney Alex Spiro as deeming “historic,” New York State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla ruled to uphold a petition for the court to block proceedings over a potential violation of state constitution and city human rights laws. The motion, which was filed in Manhattan on Wednesday, November 28, requests that arbitration be suspended for at least 90 days in order to allow for a selection process that will help populate the pool of available arbitrators with more African-Americans.

In legal documents obtained by the New York Times, Jay-Z’s team recalls him being “confronted with a start reality” as he searched to identify a single African-American arbitrator among a database of roughly 200 candidates. The prosecution and the defense had reportedly been tasked with each selecting four arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association (AAA) supplied list. Both sides were to then convene so that they may narrow their selections down, but with only two black men and one black woman available in the entire pool, the defense opted to raise its concerns about the impartiality of the process.

Justice Scarpulla has subsequently imposed an injunction on the proceedings pending a December 11 hearing date.

“The AAA’s arbitration procedures, and specifically its roster of neutrals for large and complex cases in New York, deprive black litigants like Mr. Carter and his companies of the equal protection of the laws, equal access to public accommodations, and mislead consumers into believing that they will receive a fair and impartial adjudication,” Spiro would say in a statement that he issued to the reporters from court.

Wednesday’s ruling marks the latest turn in a long-drawn battle stemming from the $204 million sale of Jay-Z’s Rocawear clothing line to Iconix over a decade ago. As Billboard notes in its coverage of the case, Iconix sued Jay-Z with claims that he undermined the 2007 sale by continuing to license out intellectual property that they acquired in the deal. Jay-Z’s defense has been that Iconix was sold a “limited category of goods” subject to licensing conditions that they are at this juncture attempting to breach.

Publicity surrounding the trial reached new heights when in May of this year Jay-Z finally showed up in court to give testimony after brushing off several U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenas. At the time, he complied with a federal judge’s orders that he share his personal involvement with the brand. According to NBC News, the private arbitration proceedings in question came to manifest when last month Iconix accused the music mogul of breaching an agreement that was reached in 2015.