Ousted Grammy CEO files explosive discrimination complaint

Ms Deborah Dugan said that the Academy retaliated against her after she detailed the misconduct in December. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The ousted chief of the organisation behind the Grammys filed a complaint on Tuesday (Jan 21) accusing the Recording Academy of putting her on leave after she raised concerns about sexual harassment, voting irregularities and other misconduct.

Ms 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, Ms 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."

Ms 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 Dec 22, she sent an email to the head of the Academy's human resources department saying she had been sexually harassed by Mr 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, Ms Dugan put the Academy on notice that she planned to take legal action.

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

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

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

Mr Portnow could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

In a statement to Agence France-Presse, the Recording Academy disputed Ms 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 Ms 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 (S$29 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."

Mr Howard Weitzman, an attorney representing Mr Katz, dismissed Ms 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 Agence France-Presse.

"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 Ms Dugan, who took over as Academy chief last summer after Mr Portnow came under fire by saying women should "step up" for increased recognition.

When the Grammy nominees were announced in November, Ms 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.

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