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Ousted Grammys chief Deborah Dugan on ‘Good Morning America’: ‘I tried to change the system from within’

Deborah Dugan, then Recording Academy president and chief executive, at the 62nd Grammy Awards nominations on Nov. 20.
Deborah Dugan, then Recording Academy president and chief executive, at the 62nd Grammy Awards nominations on Nov. 20.
(John Lamparski / WireImage)

Ousted Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan appeared on “Good Morning America” this morning, her first public appearance since she filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging widespread corruption and sexual harassment at the organization that presents the Grammys.

Appearing with attorney Douglas Wigdor, Dugan talked to George Stephanopoulos about her lawsuit, her sadness about not working Sunday’s Grammy Awards and what she called the “boys’ club” culture of the Recording Academy, which revealed itself to her early on in her tenure.

“There are definitely amazing, amazing people that work there, in the Recording Academy and also on the board,” Dugan said. “But at the very onset — in fact, under the guise of a work dinner — I was propositioned by the [Academy’s] general counsel, an entertainment lawyer of enormous, enormous power in the industry.” Dugan is referring to Joel Katz, who had also previously served as the chair of the academy’s board of trustees.

When Stephanopoulos responded with Katz’s denial of the allegations, Dugan replied, “Starting with calling me ‘babe,’ and saying how attractive I was and pretty I was … all the way through, I felt like I was being tested in how much would I acquiesce. I realized that that was a power-setting move.”

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Wigdor, a fiery advocate for his client, said that the Grammys were on “life support” and that the flurry of statements issued by Recording Academy advocates in the wake of Dugan’s dismissal was a sign that the organization was in “panic mode.”

“The fact of the matter is this,” he said. “Deborah worked for eight years as an executive at EMI; she worked for eight years as a president at Disney; she worked for eight years for Bono at [RED], raising hundreds of millions of dollars to eradicate AIDS. She never once filed an HR complaint, and there was never once an HR complaint filed against her.”

“I actually wanted to make change from within,” said Dugan. “I moved across the country. I had a great job. I believe in what the Recording Academy should stand for — for artists. I was trying at each step to take a deep breath and say, ‘OK, I can make a difference. I can fix this. I can work with this team.’”

Dugan also talked about the allegation that former CEO Neil Portnow had sexually assaulted an artist, which she claims she found out about at the beginning of her tenure.

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“And when I first started at that first meeting with Joel, there was also a board meeting, and I found out that there was rape allegation against the former CEO [Neil Portnow] that had not been brought to [my] attention.”

Stephanopoulos pointed out that Portnow had denied the accusations, and Wigdor was quick to respond: “He doesn’t deny that there was a rape allegation. He denies that he committed rape.”

Stephanopoulos also asked Dugan to reveal the identity of an unnamed artist who she says garnered a song of the year nomination over megastars Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande, despite their receiving more votes. “For the artist’s privacy, and for the integrity of all those artists that are going to perform and get nominations this year, I don’t want to say,” Dugan demurred.

“The system should be transparent,” she added. “There are conflicts of interest that taint the results.”

When asked if she’d be watching the Grammys, Dugan said yes, and encouraged Stephanopoulos and viewers at home to tune in on Sunday: “I worked very hard on the show. I love the artists that are going to be performing, and I love all those that are nominated that don’t get the honor of being on the show. We can all watch in good conscience.”


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