Ousted Recording Academy CEO Alleges Grammy Awards Corruption, Discrimination + More in EEOC Complaint
Deborah Dugan, the former Recording Academy CEO who was put on "administrative leave" amid allegations of misconduct on Thursday (Jan. 16), has filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the filing, Dugan reports that she was sexually harassed during her tenure with the Academy, and lists a number of major issues within the organization, which runs the annual Grammy Awards.
The New York Times reports that Dugan was removed as CEO following a complaint from her assistant, who had also worked for Dugan's predecessor, Neil Portnow, and accused Dugan of bullying. However, in her EEOC complaint, Dugan claims that she filed her own complaint with HR in December, after being sexually harassed by Joel Katz, the Recording Academy's legal counsel and a former board member. Her complaint also details additional issues: gender and racial discrimination on the part of the Academy; that the Grammy Awards nomination process is corrupted; and that Portnow resigned after being accused of rape, some of which Dugan, the Times reports, had outlined in a memo to HR.
According to Dugan's EEOC complaint, the discrimination she faced at the Recording Academy began immediately: She was "offered significantly less compensation that her male predecessor, Portnow, was being paid," and when she asked for more money, her request was rejected "and she was told that she should be happy to be earning more than she had in her previous role." While Dugan's complaint focuses largely on her own experiences, she also shares moments of discrimination experienced by two other former female Recording Academy executives and a temporary worker who is black and gay.
Similarly, Katz's harassment of Dugan began even before her tenure as Recording Academy CEO. Her complaint reports that, in May of 2019, Katz invited her to a private dinner, during which he was "disconcerting and utterly inappropriate" toward Dugan, allegedly trying to kiss her at the end of the meal. It was during that same month that Dugan claims she, in a board meeting, learned that a foreign Recording Academy member artist had accused Portnow of raping her after a performance at New York City's Carnegie Hall.
Dugan learned of the allegation against Portnow ahead of a full-board vote on whether or not to give Portnow a bonus for his work with the Recording Academy, though all board members were not aware of the allegation. Previously, before she learned of the rape claim, Dugan had been asked by the board to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000, and she refused.
Similar issues of discrimination and favoritism abound within the Grammy Awards process. Dugan claims in her EEOC complaint that the Recording Academy board uses Grammys nominations "as an opportunity to push forward artists with whom they have relationships," including ensuring that certain songs are nominated for awards so that they can be performed during the ceremony. She also reports that board members will add potential nominees to consideration, despite them not receiving enough votes from Academy members.
"When Ms. Dugan did raise her 'concerns' to HR, she specifically instructed HR 'not to take any action' in response. Nonetheless, we immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms. Dugan’s potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations. Both of these investigations remain ongoing," the Recording Academy says in a statement (quote via Pitchfork). "Our loyalty will always be to the 21,000 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."
In a statement of their own, Dugan's lawyers say that she "repeatedly raised concerns throughout her entire tenure at the Academy, and even gave large presentations focused on diversity and inclusion at Board meetings," and note that "artists, other board members and employees have all raised virtually all of the concerns raised by Ms. Dugan."
"As alleged, the Academy has lost its way and abandoned the recording industry, instead focusing on self-dealing and turning blind eye to the 'boys’ club' environment, obvious improprieties and conflicts of interest," they add. "It was never Ms. Dugan’s intention to turn this into a public fight precisely because of her love for music and the members of the recording industry. Unfortunately, staying silent was made impossible by the Board’s repeated leaks and disclosures of false and misleading information to the press."
The 2020 Grammy Awards are scheduled for Sunday (Jan. 26).
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