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Recording Academy officially terminates Deborah Dugan, citing ‘large number of incidents’

Deborah Dugan
Former Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan, who was officially terminated by the Academy’s board of trustees on March 2, 2020.
(John Lamparski / WireImage)

The Recording Academy’s board of trustees voted Monday to formally terminate President and CEO Deborah Dugan barely seven months after she took the job, the aftermath of a dramatic meltdown between Dugan and the Grammy Awards organization that erupted just 10 days ahead of the Jan. 26 Grammy ceremony.

“After weighing all of the evidence from two independent investigations,” the Academy said in a statement, “the board of trustees of the Recording Academy voted to terminate Ms. Dugan from her role as president/CEO. We will initiate a search for a new leader who will leverage the Academy’s diverse membership and rich history and help us transform it to better serve our members today and into the future. As we structure this new search, we will look carefully to see where the last one led us astray and make any necessary changes going forward.”

The investigation overwhelmingly confirmed the serious complaints that had been lodged against her by a multitude of Academy staff members,” said Recording Academy Vice Chair Tammy Hurt. “The damage she has caused this organization is truly heartbreaking.”

“It was not one thing that led to this action but rather the large number of incidents that demonstrated poor judgment, both before and after Ms. Dugan went on administrative leave,” said Christine Albert, the Academy’s Chair Emeritus. “There was just no way she could continue to serve this organization.”

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In response, Dugan’s attorneys, Douglas Wigdor and Michael Willemin, said in a statement, “The Academy’s decision to terminate Ms. Dugan and immediately leak that information to the press further demonstrates that it will stop at nothing to protect and maintain a culture of misogyny, discrimination, sexual harassment, corruption and conflicts of interest. The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, its leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable under the law.”

On Jan. 16, the Academy’s board placed Dugan on administrative leave, citing an unnamed employee’s complaint about an abusive workplace under Dugan. At that point, board chairman Harvey Mason Jr., who also was new to his role as of last year, took over as interim president and CEO.

The employee who made the complaint against Dugan was Claudine Little, the longtime close associate of Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow, who left the academy after 17 years at the helm on the heels of a controversial remark he made following the 2018 Grammy Awards in which he said women needed to “step up” to achieve parity in the often male-dominated awards ceremony.

Dugan, in turn, alleged sexual harassment in the early going after accepting the post, and further said she had raised questions about voting and financial improprieties including conflicts of interest for some board members she discovered, along with concerns that the organization was making “exorbitant” payments to two outside law firms that handle most of the academy’s legal services.

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Those concerns were detailed in a 44-page complaint Dugan’s lawyers filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is expected to take months for the EEOC to address.

The charges and countercharges played out in the days ahead of the Grammy Awards ceremony, intended as an annual occasion to celebrate creativity, artistic and technical excellence in the music industry during the preceding year.

Although Dugan’s EEOC complaint recounted interactions she said constituted sexual harassment by Academy legal counsel Joel Katz, who also is a past board chairman, and revealed another woman’s earlier allegation of rape against Portnow, who vehemently denied the charge, perhaps the most damaging charge was Dugan’s assertion that the awards process itself is rife with manipulation by the so-called “secret committees” that vet recordings submitted for nominations and awards.


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