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Deb Dugan calls Recording Academy misconduct investigation ‘completely biased’

Deborah Dugan
Ousted Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan.
(John Lamparski / WireImage)

The ousted chief executive of the Recording Academy charged Wednesday that the organization has already rigged investigations into an employee’s complaint of workplace misconduct against her, as well as her own allegations of sexual harassment against the academy’s general counsel, voting irregularities surrounding the Grammy Awards, financial misconduct and conflicts of interest for some members of the academy’s board of trustees.

Deborah Dugan, who this month left her job as president and CEO at the 62-year-old not-for-profit organization best known for annually bestowing the Grammys, notified the academy in a four-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, alleging further conflicts of interest in the choice of an investigator made by a law firm that annually does millions of dollars’ worth of business for the academy.

Allowing Proskauer Rose LLP to make that choice fundamentally compromises the investigation, she said.

“We have a situation wherein you have Proskauer tasked with hiring the investigator that will, in part, investigate Proskauer,” she wrote. “The results of the investigation are a foregone conclusion.” She has proposed the use either of a single, mutually agreed-upon investigator or the addition of a second investigator of her choosing to work alongside the academy’s choice.

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“I cannot possibly trust that Proskauer’s choice of investigator will be neutral,” Dugan wrote.

She also asked the academy to waive an arbitration requirement in her contract and insisted that investigations be public rather than private. “The public and the industry have a right to know what is going on in the academy, which is a ‘public’ not-for-profit organization,” according to her letter, which was addressed to the executive committee of the academy’s board.

“Ms. Dugan continues to attempt to manage public perceptions through misinformation,” the Recording Academy responded in a statement Wednesday. “The Recording Academy is weighing all of the available information and considering our options as it relates to the next steps with Ms. Dugan. We remain extremely disappointed in how she is choosing to handle the situation and strongly disagree with many of her claims. At this point, we are focused on the future and are excited about continuing the agenda of change and progress.”

The academy’s board placed Dugan on administrative leave Jan. 16, just 10 days ahead of the 62nd awards ceremony that took place Sunday at Staples Center in L.A., citing a misconduct complaint from “a senior female member of the Recording Academy team.” The accuser was later identified as Director of Administration Claudine Little, who had served closely for nearly 17 years with Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow.

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Dugan’s lawyer subsequently filed a lengthy complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission detailing her concerns over aspects of what she had learned about the inner workings of the academy in her first few months leading the organization.

“I am calling upon the Academy to voluntarily release me from the arbitration agreement,” Dugan wrote. “The public is not permitted to access or even learn about what is happening during the arbitration process ... . Clearly, the public cannot come to a conclusion if it is denied access to the evidence.”

She accused the academy of leaking information to the media about its decision to place her on leave for misconduct. She cited a memo issued four days later to academy members by board chairman Harvey Mason Jr., who is serving as interim president and CEO, “falsely insinuating that I extorted the Academy. The letter also outrageously complained about the ‘leaks’ regarding this matter even though it was the Academy that decided to make this matter public.”

The Recording Academy has not responded to multiple requests from The Times to identify who is conducting the two investigations it described as “independent” in its initial announcement of Dugan’s leave.

In an interview Saturday with The Times, Dugan said she had no intention of going public with her concerns so close to the Grammy Awards, but that after the academy announced it was placing her on leave and alleging misconduct in the workplace, she said, “I had no choice but to defend myself.”

Her team argues that private arbitration often favors perpetrators of sexual harassment over victims as a key reason she’s asking the academy to voluntarily release her from an arbitration agreement.

She was hired last May to succeed Portnow after a “public relations crisis,” as it was described by a task force created to examine “conscious and unconscious” issues of gender and racial bias and lack of diversity within the music industry in general and within the Recording Academy in particular.

Long-standing complaints of such biases erupted after the 2018 Grammy Awards, when Portnow responded to a question about that year’s male-dominated results by saying it was time for women to “step up” to achieve parity in the industry and at the awards ceremony.

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Numerous artists, record executives and others, male and female, called for Portnow to step down. He remained in his post but announced months later he would not seek to renew his contract when it ended July 31. Dugan’s formal duties began Aug. 1.

Dugan was hired from her previous post as chief executive at (RED), the AIDS awareness nonprofit co-founded in 2006 by U2 singer Bono.

Updates:
3:17 PM, Jan. 29, 2020: This report was updated with a responses statement from the Recording Academy.

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