News outlets recently rushed to share the story that lawyers for Jay-Z had successfully halted an arbitration in his “Roc Nation” trademark dispute with Iconix based on findings of racial bias and discrimination. Headlines included:

  • “Judge Halts Arbitration In Jay-Z Suit Because Of Racial Bias”
  • “Jay-Z wins arbitration delay after arguing panel was ‘too white’”
  • “Jay-Z arbitration dispute temporarily halted after rapper wins injunction over discrimination”
  • “Jay-Z Halting His $204M Lawsuit Over a Lack of Black Arbitrators Could Be Historic”
  • “Jay-Z Wins Bid To Halt Arbitration In Iconix Dispute on Racial Grounds”

So what really happened?

It is true that Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the Supreme Court of the State of New York recently granted an order to show cause temporarily halting an arbitration in the matter Shawn C. Carter, et al. v. Iconix Brand Group, Inc. et al., Index No. 655894/2018. It is also true that lawyers for Jay-Z brought a petition to stay the parties’ American Arbitration Association (AAA) arbitration because they alleged a lack of diversity within AAA. And it is also true that Justice Scarpulla agreed that the AAA should be diverse: “that’s a given.”

But let’s be clear. Justice Scarpulla is not the judge assigned to the case. That is Justice Barry Ostrager. He was out last week and Justice Scarpulla heard the petition in his absence. And as the publicly-available transcript demonstrates, her decision to grant the temporary restraining order was not based on the merits but was simply an opportunity to let Justice Ostrager hear things after he got back:

“I’m going to sign this TRO. You can argue it in front of Judge Ostrager. . . . If this was my case, I would rule on it, but it’s not. I have no problem issuing a TRO for twelve days. . . . [Justice Ostrager] has the absolute right to do whatever he wants, and I just want to keep the status quo between now and when you argue in front of Judge Ostrager.”

Justice Scrapulla even changed the phrasing of the order to reflect her reasoning:

Thus, she nixed the language agreeing with the substance of Jay-Z’s request as well as the portion halting the arbitration for 90 days. During the hearing, Justice Scarpulla even expressed concerns about the Court’s role in the dispute in the first place: “This is a private agreement between two individuals. You could have said in your contract, I want the Dalai Lama to decide my case, and that’s your private right and your private decision[.] . . . What I am saying to you is, it doesn’t involve the government.”

At the end of the day, the Court’s decision appears to be less historic and substantial than advertised. Rather, it put things on hold for a couple of weeks to accommodate another judge’s schedule. Of course, the headline “Judge Halts Proceedings Until Another Judge Can Hear Petition” would be far less exciting.

So stay tuned. Justice Ostrager could hear these arguments as early as next week.