Former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow calls rape allegation ‘ludicrous and untrue’

Neil Portnow
Former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow has responded to allegations made by his successor, Deborah Dugan.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow has released a response to an EEOC complaint filed Tuesday by Deborah Dugan, calling it “filled with inaccurate, false and outrageous and terribly hurtful claims against me.”

Dugan, who is Portnow’s successor at the academy, was put on administrative leave last week after she accused the organization of “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 ‘boy’s club’ mentality and approach to governance at the Academy.”

The most explosive allegation in Tuesday’s 44-page complaint involves Portnow, who she claims “allegedly raped a female recording artist, which was, upon information and belief, the real reasons his contract was not renewed.” Dugan also claims that Portnow was in line for a $750,000 “consulting fee” despite him no longer being employed by the Academy.


In complaint filed to EEOC, former Grammys boss Deborah Dugan accused the Recording Academy of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and financial misconduct.

Jan. 21, 2020

In a statement to The Times issued Wednesday morning, Portnow responded with a fiery denial:

“The allegations of rape are ludicrous, and untrue,” he said. “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 Directors 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.

“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,” Portnow’s statement added. “I informed the then board chair and executive committee of my decision. At no time did I ever demand a $750,000 consulting fee.”

The Recording Academy places President and CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave with the Grammy Awards fast approaching. Insiders trade accusations.

Jan. 17, 2020

The statement then referenced Portnow’s 2018 response to a question about representation at the Grammy Awards, in which he said, “Women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level … [need] to step up...”

Said Portnow: “After making the ‘step up’ comment during the 2018 telecast, for which I have apologized and deeply regret the offense caused, and understanding the power of listening and lessons learned, I took action. I proposed and the Academy created an independent task force to review the state of diversity & inclusion across the organization. After presenting the task force plan and proposed study of the organization to the board, the group was created to implement change. Task force Chair Tina Tchen made a presentation to the full board during a May 2019 meeting.

“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.”


The statement concludes with a teaser for this Sunday’s Grammy Awards.