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Recording Academy’s own diversity task force expresses support for ousted boss Deborah Dugan

Deborah Dugan
Ousted Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan.
(John Parra / Getty Images)

The Recording Academy’s task force on inclusion and diversity in the music industry issued a statement Thursday tacitly siding with many of the stinging criticisms leveled at the Grammy Awards organization by former President and CEO Deborah Dugan, who was ousted last week after less than six months at the helm.

These new charges reinforce just how important and urgent it is that the academy implement all of the changes in the report that we delivered — without any delay,” the statement said, referring to the report the 15-woman, three-man task force released in December after spending more than a year examining “conscious and unconscious” gender and racial biases within the industry at large and at the 62-year-old Recording Academy itself.

“The academy’s board of trustees and leadership must immediately commit themselves to real reform, take concrete steps to implement all of the task force reforms, and transparently and regularly report on their progress — including transparently reporting on the pending investigations they have announced are underway,” the statement said. “The task force will be reconvening in 90 days and expects to hear progress from the Academy by that time.”

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The statement cited the task force members’ “shock and dismay at the allegations surrounding the Recording Academy and its leadership that surfaced this week.”

“While we understand there are ongoing investigations about the issues raised over the last week,” said the statement, “our experience and research tells us that if the academy leadership, its staff and the nominating committees that govern the awards were more diverse and inclusive, there would be better processes for resolving problems and more trust in the academy as a whole. Those seeking to make such reforms need to be supported, not impeded.

“Change is hard,” the statement continued. “It won’t be easy to make these changes. But we are deeply disappointed at the level of commitment by some of the academy’s leadership in effecting the kind of real and constructive change presented in our report. We are confident that they can do better.”

The task force’s 47-page report made 18 recommendations aimed at remedying what it found to be a systemic lack of diversity within the academy’s 25,000 total membership, its 40-member board of trustees and the select committees appointed by the board’s executive committee to curate many of the 80-plus categories in which awards will be presented on Sunday in a national telecast from Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Last week, just 10 days ahead of the 2020 Grammy Awards, the academy’s board of trustees placed Dugan on “administrative leave.” The reason cited was a misconduct complaint filed against Dugan in December by Claudine Little, the academy’s director of administration, who had worked for nearly two decades under Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow.

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Little accused Dugan of fostering a “bullying and abusive” environment in the workplace.

Through her lawyer, Dugan denied the charge, and said the complaint was made in retaliation for concerns she raised about voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, “exorbitant” fees paid to outside legal firms and conflicts of interest on various fronts.

On Tuesday, her legal team filed its own complaint, also specifying sexual harassment and retaliation, with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Over the course of a 44-page EEOC filing, Dugan recounted in extensive detail her experience with the academy since, and just before, she took office on Aug. 1, succeeding Portnow. He stepped down after 17 years following a firestorm of criticism he unleashed backstage after the 2018 Grammy Awards by saying women needed to “step up” to receive parity at the heavily male-dominated awards event, a comment for which he quickly apologized and said was taken “out of context.”

Among Dugan’s most explosive allegations were an accusation of sexual harassment against prominent entertainment lawyer Joel Katz, who serves as the academy’s general counsel and is a past board chairman. Katz has denied engaging in any harassment.

Dugan also said that shortly before formally starting her new job, she was informed by the board of a previous allegation of sexual assault leveled against Portnow, for whom she was asked to approve a consultation contract for $750,000. She declined.

Portnow responded by saying the assault charge was “ludicrous and untrue” and that the incident had been the subject of an internal investigation that “completely exonerated” him.

Dugan made the media rounds Thursday, appearing on several network TV news programs, alleging that the voting processes that determine Grammy nominees and winners is “rigged.”

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The task force was headed by Tina Tchen, former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and now president and CEO of Time’s Up Now, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization aiming to address issues of gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

The Grammy Awards will begin Sunday at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Among this year’s top nominees are Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Lil Nas X.


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