Ousted Grammy CEO files explosive discrimination complaint

The Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan announces nominations for the 2020 Grammy Awards at a news conference in Manhattan, New York November 20, 2019. — Reuters pic
The Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan announces nominations for the 2020 Grammy Awards at a news conference in Manhattan, New York November 20, 2019. — Reuters pic

LOS ANGELES, Jan 22 — The ousted chief of the organisation behind the Grammys filed a complaint yesterday accusing the Recording Academy of putting her on leave after she raised concerns about sexual harassment, voting irregularities and other misconduct.

Deborah Dugan says in her 44-page complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Los Angeles that the Academy retaliated against her after she detailed the misconduct in December.

In her most explosive charge against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Dugan says that she was asked to hire her predecessor, Neil Portnow, as a consultant despite allegations that he had raped a foreign female recording artist, “which was, upon information and belief, the real reason his contract was not renewed.”

Dugan’s sexual harassment and discrimination allegation comes just days before the Grammy Award ceremony is set to be held in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The complaint states that on December 22, she sent an email to the head of the Academy’s human resources department saying she had been sexually harassed by Joel Katz, an attorney who is general counsel to the Academy.

“The email also detailed egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the ‘boys club’ mentality and approach to governance at the Academy,” the complaint states.

It adds that after sending the email, Dugan put the Academy on notice that she planned to take legal action. 

Dugan alleges that the Academy retaliated against her by putting her on leave on trumped-up charges of misconduct.

Dugan replaced Portnow last May, becoming the first woman to lead the Recording Academy.

Music’s biggest night stolen

In her complaint, she claims that an unidentified recording artist accused Portnow of raping her following a performance she gave at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Portnow could not be immediately reached for comment yesterday.

In a statement to AFP, the Recording Academy disputed Dugan’s claims and said her actions would cast a shadow over the upcoming awards show.

“It is curious that Ms Dugan never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally by a female employee who alleged Ms Dugan had created a ‘toxic and intolerable’ work environment and engaged in ‘abusive and bullying conduct,’” the statement reads. 

It adds that a probe was underway to review Dugan’s potential misconduct and her allegations.

“Ms Dugan was placed on administrative leave only after offering to step down and demanding US$22 million from the Academy, which is a not-for-profit organisation,” the statement said.

“Our loyalty will always be to the 25,000 members of the recording industry. We regret that Music’s Biggest Night is being stolen from them by Ms Dugan’s actions and we are working to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”

Howard Weitzman, an attorney representing Katz, dismissed Dugan’s sexual harassment allegation saying his client “categorically and emphatically denies” the charge.

“Ms Dugan’s allegations of harassment and her description of a dinner at the steakhouse in The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (near Los Angeles) are false,” he told AFP.

“Ms Dugan’s claims are made, for the first time, seven months after this dinner took place,” he added. “Mr Katz will cooperate in any and all investigations or lawsuits by telling the absolute and whole truth. Hopefully Ms Dugan will do the same.”

The 2020 Grammy celebration was to be the first under Dugan, who took over as Academy chief last summer after Portnow came under fire by saying women should “step up” for increased recognition.

When the Grammy nominees were announced in November, Dugan had heralded “a new era for the Recording Academy,” pointing to “an army of engaged members that welcomes diversity, embraces creativity and champions young musicians on the rise.”

In 2018 the organisation created a task force in response to a major backlash that the Grammys are consistently too male and too white. — AFP

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