Ousted Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan sues Recording Academy, claims retaliation for exposing 'boys club'
Embattled Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan alleges she was sexually harassed and placed on leave as “retaliation” for raising concerns about the “boys’ club” atmosphere within the organization that hands out the Grammy awards.
On Tuesday, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlining these allegations and including a Dec. 22, 2019 email to HR that she claims was the root of her firing. The 46-page document outlines numerous claims, including those originally made in the Dec. 22 email.
In the email and the official complaint, Dugan alleges the Academy’s general counsel Joel Katz sexually harassed her, calling her “baby” repeatedly and trying to kiss her at the end of a business dinner. Mr. Katz did not respond to request for comment. (His auto-reply message indicated that he was out sick.)
The EEOC complaint also outlines Dugan’s attempts to address, in her words, “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.” It is this concern that Dugan alleges is part of the reason behind her firing, refuting the Academy’s claims that a female employee alleged Ms. Dugan had created a “toxic and intolerable” work environment.
Dugan’s official complaint also states that the female employee behind that accusation is Claudine Little, former executive assistant to Dugan’s predecessor Neil Portnow. Portnow exited his position as Grammys CEO last year, resigning from his position after he came under fire for his now infamous remarks at the 2018 Grammys calling on female artists to “step up.”
A representative for Little shared a statement with EW on Wednesday, where she points to Dugan’s claims as a continuation of the bullying behavior behind her initial complaint. It reads, “Ms. Dugan’s choice to litigate in the press and spread a false narrative about the Academy and me and my colleagues is regrettable, but it is also emblematic of Ms. Dugan’s abusive and bullying conduct while she served as the Academy’s President and CEO. I am proud of my career with the Academy—where, as a woman, I was able to work my way from secretary to Director of Administration in the executive suite, solely based on merit and while working for and with leaders far more demanding and hard-charging than Ms. Dugan. It is disappointing that Ms. Dugan hopes to leverage public opinion along gender lines and expects not to be scrutinized for her inexcusable behavior simply because she is a woman; she should be held to the same standard.”
Dugan claims the Board encouraged her to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, despite the fact that there was an outstanding sexual harassment claim against him. The complaint also includes allegations that Portnow raped a female recording artist, “which was, upon information and belief, the real reason his contract was not renewed.”
On Wednesday, Portnow responded with a statement of his own, per Variety. “This document is filled with inaccurate, false and outrageous and terribly hurtful claims against me,” he wrote. “Here is what is true: The allegations of rape are ludicrous, and untrue. The suggestion that there was is disseminating a lie. The baseless complaint about my conduct referenced in the EEOC filing was immediately brought to the attention of the Board of Director’s Executive Committee. An in-depth independent investigation by experienced and highly regarded lawyers was conducted and I was completely exonerated. There was no basis for the allegations and once again I deny them unequivocally.”
He also refuted Dugan’s claims that he had requested a $750,000 consulting fee and denied his “step up” remarks as playing any role in his leaving his post, stating, “”I fulfilled the terms and responsibilities of my contract during my 17 years as President and ultimately Chief Executive Officer. Consistent with my pledge to ensure that there would be the appropriate amount of time for the Academy to organize and execute an efficient and transparent transition, I determined far in advance of the GRAMMY telecast in 2018 that I would not seek a further extension of my contract scheduled to end July 31, 2019. I informed the then Board Chair and Executive Committee of my decision. At no time did I ever demand a $750,000 consulting fee.”
He concluded by writing, “The repetition of these falsehoods against me, and others referenced within the EEOC filing are a diversionary tactic and will not convert them to truth. I will vigorously defend all false claims made against me in this document. I would like to wish all the 2020 nominees and those in our creative community well and sincerely hope that they will celebrate their art and accomplishments this weekend at the GRAMMY Awards telecast and during the many GRAMMY Week events ahead.”
Dugan also alleges that the Board engaged in a conflict of interest scheme in 2019 by allowing an artist under consideration for a Grammy Song of the Year nomination to sit on the committee that was voting for said category. Per Dugan, the artist ended up with a nod, despite ranking near the bottom.
An initial statement from Dugan’s lawyers, Douglas H. Wigdor and Michael J. Willemin, upon filing of the complaint read, “The complaint that we filed today against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammys) highlights tactics reminiscent of those deployed by individuals defending Harvey Weinstein. As we allege, the attempt by the Recording Academy to impugn the character of Deborah Dugan is a transparent effort to shift the focus away from its own unlawful activity. This blatant form of retaliation in corporate America is all too common, even post #MeToo, and we will utilize all lawful means necessary to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”
The Recording Academy responded to this and the filing of the complaint with a statement of their own. It reads, “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’. When Ms. Dugan did raise her ‘concerns’ to HR, she specifically instructed HR ‘not to take any action’ in response.”
Their statement continues, “Nonetheless, we immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms. Dugan’s potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations. Both of these investigations remain ongoing. Ms. Dugan was placed on administrative leave only after offering to step down and demanding $22 million from the Academy, which is a not-for-profit organization.”
Dugan’s legal team quickly responded to the statement, refuting the Academy’s claims. “As the charge filed today clearly alleges, the assertion that Ms. Dugan did not raise concerns prior to the accusations manufactured against her is completely false,” it begins. “Ms. Dugan repeatedly raised concerns throughout her entire tenure at the Academy, and even gave large presentations focused on diversity and inclusion at Board meetings. In addition, it is not just Ms. Dugan who has raised concerns. As alleged in the charge, 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.”
The statement also claims the Academy’s repeated leaks and disclosures of information forced this issue into the public eye. “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,” it concludes. “Finally, as alleged in the charge, on the morning of the day she was put on leave, the Academy offered Ms. Dugan millions of dollars to drop all of this and leave the Academy. The Board Chair demanded an answer within the hour. When Ms. Dugan refused to accept and walk away, she was put on leave. The Academy claimed that Ms. Dugan was put on leave based on accusations made against her over a month prior that the Board knows very well are meritless. That is not a credible story.”
On Wednesday, her lawyers also responded to Portnow’s statement, writing, “Mr. Portnow’s statement is only the most recent in a series of defamatory attacks aimed at Ms. Dugan because she is a woman who has shown the courage to stand up for what is right. When read carefully, it is clear that Mr. Portnow does not even deny that an allegation of rape was made, although the statement appears wordsmithed to leave the false impression that there was no allegation. We and Ms. Dugan stand behind her EEOC charge 100%.”
They continued, “Mr. Portnow denies ‘demanding’ $750,000 for a consultancy. However, Ms. Dugan’s charge does not allege that he made such a demand. What Ms. Dugan knows is that the then-Chair of the Recording Academy’s Board, John Poppo, requested that she hire Mr. Portnow as a consultant and pay him $750,000, before she was ever told about the rape allegation. Moreover, Ms. Dugan does not believe that the full Board had even been told about the proposed consultancy or the rape allegation at that time.”
The complaint itself alleges that the accusations made against Dugan by Little were “not of the sort that would ever result in a CEO being put on administrative leave.” It accuses Chair of the Board, Harvey Mason, of publishing a “false, retaliatory and defamatory” letter Dugan claims was designed to destroy her reputation before filing her complaint.
“The Executive Committee is trying to paint Ms. Dugan as a money-hungry liar. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Ms. Dugan took the CEO job at the Academy because she firmly believes that music can save lives,” the complaint concludes. “Six months later, the Board is doing everything it can to destroy Ms. Dugan for the sole reason that she posed a threat to the ‘boys’ club.'”
This is an ongoing story.