Azealia Banks’ ‘Racism’ Claim Against Jeff Kwatinetz Stricken From Lawsuit

Azealia Banks’ scathing breach of contract lawsuit against ex-manager Jeff Kwatinetz survived mostly intact after a court challenge Thursday, but a judge stripped out two paragraphs accusing the music manager of “racism.”

At a hearing in downtown L.A., Judge Yolanda Orozco said the paragraphs – which refer to recanted allegations from ex-NBA star Roger Mason Jr. that Kwatinetz used racial slurs to describe players and investors in the BIG3 Basketball league he co-founded with Ice Cube – “have nothing to do with the case.”

“I’m not at all convinced that the allegation of (racism) was a motive,” Judge Orozco told Banks’ lawyer, Mark Passin, referring to the complaint as written. “That does not prevent you from developing that theory, if it’s your theory, in your case.”

Passin argued the issue would certainly become relevant if Banks needs to prove “malice, oppression or fraud” on the part of Kwatinetz to collect possible punitive damages if she prevails.

“The allegation that Kwatinetz’s actions may have been partially motivated by racism is relevant, we believe. If it is true, it shows that he’s more likely than not to have failed to pay Banks and committed the other wrongful acts,” Passin argued. “It’s highly relevant to punitive damages because it shows despicable conduct.”

The judge said her decision at this stage of the legal battle doesn’t preclude Banks from attempting to raise the claim again: “I don’t see anywhere in my tentative (ruling) where I said that the issue of racism can’t be raised for punitive damages.”

Banks’ lawsuit – filed Nov. 18 with allegations of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, fraud and deceit – accuses Kwatinetz of posing as a “romantic suitor” to control, manipulate and “steal” from her.

It claims Kwatinetz engaged in an “egregious breach of fiduciary duty” when he signed on as Banks’ manager and then brokered a 2014 deal in which his music label Prospect Park received a 15-year license to exploit her Broke with Expensive Taste album and an agreement to split net receipts 50-50.

According to Banks’ filing, Prospect Park collected album revenues of nearly $1.5 million and then deducted “outrageous” costs and expenses totaling nearly $1.3 million. She claims she’s only been paid $15,345.

Banks’ cross-complaint was filed after Kwatinetz sued her first in 2020, later dismissed the litigation for “extensive negotiations” and then sued again last September with claims of stalking, defamation and contract interference.

For his part, Kwatinetz claims Broke with Expensive Taste was a “financial failure” due to Banks’ “self-defeating acts,” and that Banks later embarked on a “terrifying” smear campaign against him that allegedly involved Banks posting photos of herself outside his Los Angeles home and “inciting her fans to take up her cause.”

In her split decision Thursday, Judge Orozco decided that while the two paragraphs about “racism” and another paragraph accusing Kwatinetz of being a prolific litigant had to go, the vast majority of the material Kwatinetz sought to strike could remain, including allegations related to the Backstreet Boys and Kelly Clarkson as well as claims Kwatinetz manipulated Banks with “sleepovers,” gifts, professions of love and other “charming” behavior when he was 49 years old and she was 23.

In the paragraphs that survived, Banks claims Kwatinetz sent her emails boasting about how he brought the Backstreet Boys “back from obscurity” before the boy band fired him over a “bs commission fight” and how he made Clarkson “the biggest is the world” before she cut him loose because she purportedly was “in love” with him and became upset when he “told her to start working out because she had a lot of TV coming up.”

“The judge struck allegations that are garbage and bogus, and were included to harass Mr. Kwatinetz. We look forward to exposing the balance of the cross-complaint as more of the same,” Mike Taitelman, another lawyer for Kwatinetz, told Rolling Stone after the hearing.

“We’re happy that we won the vast majority of the motions,” Passin said Thursday.

In her original complaint, Banks and her lawyer alleged that Mason only retracted his allegations that Kwatinetz was part of a hostile and racist working environment at BIG3 because he reached a secret settlement behind closed doors. They said they hoped to obtain a copy of the purported settlement through discovery.