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Music

Ousted Grammys chief: ‘We will expose what happens when you “step up” at the Recording Academy’

Deborah Dugan
Deborah Dugan, president and chief executive of the Recording Academy, replaced Neil Portnow, who suggested in 2018 female artists should “step up.”
(John Parra / Getty Images)

Just 10 days before the 62nd Grammy Awards, Recording Academy President and Chief Executive Deborah Dugan was placed on leave after an allegation of misconduct, the organization confirmed Thursday.

Dugan took over Aug. 1 as the first female president of the Recording Academy, which oversees the Grammy Awards. Dugan replaced longtime Recording Academy Chief Executive Neil Portnow, who suggested in 2018 that female artists should “step up” if they wanted to be recognized at the Grammys.

“In light of concerns raised to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, including a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team, the Board has placed Recording Academy President and CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave, effective immediately,” according to a statement from the academy provided to The Times. “The Board has also retained two independent third-party investigators to conduct independent investigations of the allegations.

“The Board determined this action to be necessary in order to restore the confidence of the Recording Academy’s membership, repair Recording Academy employee morale, and allow the Recording Academy to focus on its mission of serving all music creators,” the statement continued. “Board Chair Harvey Mason Jr. will serve as interim president and CEO pending the conclusion of the investigation. The Recording Academy Board of Trustees is committed to fostering a safe, diverse and inclusive workplace, music industry and society.”

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Representatives for the academy said no other information was immediately available.

“What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told,” Dugan said through lawyer Bryan Freedman in a statement issued Friday morning. “When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you ‘step up’ at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit.”

Dugan had recently filed a complaint with the academy’s human resources department, according to a New York Times report, outlining practices that raised concerns for her, including voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, “exorbitant and unnecessary” legal fees and “conflicts of interest involving members of the academy’s board, executive committee and outside lawyers.”

The New York Times also cited a person “with direct knowledge” saying that Dugan’s removal came after an assistant to former President and CEO Portnow, her immediate predecessor, filed a complaint about Dugan, charging her with a “bullying” management style. The assistant subsequently took a leave of absence, according to the New York Times report.

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A source with knowledge of the Recording Academy’s operations told the Los Angeles Times that Dugan “didn’t fit in, from the get-go.”

Another person with knowledge of the academy’s inner workings characterized Dugan’s management style as “very different” from Portnow’s, and said some at the academy were resistant to the change, while others welcomed a new approach.

Her appointment, announced in May, was considered a concrete step toward addressing long-standing issues of gender bias in the music industry in general, and in particular at the Recording Academy. Previously she had been chief executive at (Red), the AIDS nonprofit founded in 2006 by U2 singer Bono.

Following Portnow’s remark, a firestorm of criticism was unleashed at him and the organization from musicians, male and female, as well as others in and out of the record business.

One immediate result was the formation of a 15-woman, three-man task force, headed by Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, to explore “conscious and unconscious” discrimination against women, people of color and those in the LGBTQ community.

The task force’s final report, issued in December, described the aftermath of Portnow’s comments as a “public relations crisis with respect to [the academy’s] commitment to diversity.”

A source familiar with the task force’s operations said recently that under Dugan’s leadership, some of the 18 recommendations contained in the final report have been approved for implementation.

In her first interview with members of the media after the announcement of her appointment, Dugan told The Times, “All the issues that Neil has addressed have led us to a larger conversation, and that is a conversation, of course, that we need to have about women and diversity in music. Where we take it and how we use this organization to effect positive change, that’s one of the questions I’m most excited to answer in this job.”

How her departure may impact the 2020 Grammy Awards ceremony is unclear.

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The Grammys will take place at Staples Center on Jan. 26.

Updates:
7:43 AM, Jan. 17, 2020: This post was updated with details from a New York Times report about a complaint filed recently against Deborah Dugan by an assistant to her predecessor and another filed by Dugan alleging misconduct within the academy on several fronts.
7:09 AM, Jan. 17, 2020: This post was updated with a statement from Recording Academy President Deborah Dugan.

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