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Nearly 16 years after his death, Atlantic Records CEO Ahmet Ertegun accused of assault

A close vertical portrait an older man wearing round-rimmed glasses.
Music executive Ahmet Ertegun, who co-founded Atlantic Records, poses at his office in New York in 1998.
( Mitsu Yasukawa / FTT)
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A former music manager has accused Ahmet Ertegun, the late co-founder and longtime chief executive of Atlantic Records, of sexually assaulting her multiple times spanning decades, and she alleges that the record company covered it up.

Jan Roeg filed a lawsuit on Monday in New York state court against Ertegun‘s estate and Atlantic Records, which is owned by Warner Music Group, for sexual assault, sexual battery, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress starting in the early 1980s. She seeks monetary damages that would be set during a trial.

Roeg filed the lawsuit under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which was signed into law earlier this year and went into effect on Nov. 24. The new law allows survivors of sexual assault to sue their abusers even if the statute of limitations has expired. Ertegun died in 2006 at age 83.

Roeg alleged in a 28-page complaint that during her decades-long working relationship with Atlantic Records, Ertegun groped her, masturbated in front of her and attempted to physically force her to perform oral sex on him while riding in a car together. She said the record company was aware of other instances of alleged sexual assault and harassment at the hands of the former executive, yet failed to act and protect Roeg and other women.

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“As Ms. Roeg shows in her Complaint, the ‘sex, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll’ culture in the music industry at companies like Atlantic Records was taken as license by powerful men like Ahmet Ertegun to engage in sexual assault and other abuse of women,” said Lawrence Pearson, Roeg’s attorney, in a statement on Monday. “Now, Ms. Roeg and other survivors of sexual assault who in past years were forced into silence due to the threat of retaliation or loss of their careers can get justice under the Adult Survivors Act.”

Warner Music Group and Atlantic Records said in a statement on Monday that it takes “allegations of misconduct very seriously.”

“These allegations date back nearly 40 years, to before WMG was a standalone company,” the music company told The Times through a spokesperson. “We are speaking with people who were there at the time, taking into consideration that many key individuals are deceased or into their 80s and 90s. To ensure a safe, equitable, and inclusive working environment, we have a comprehensive Code of Conduct, and mandatory workplace training, to which all of our employees must adhere. We regularly evaluate how we can evolve our policies to ensure our work environment is free from discrimination and harassment.”

Ahmet Ertegun, the Turkish ambassador’s son whose ear for the culture of black America would make his Atlantic Records a legendary fount of 20th century popular music, died Thursday.

Roeg and Ertegun first met in 1983 for a meeting inside an Atlantic Records office to discuss the label possibly signing one of Roeg’s clients, Caspar McCloud. Roeg also managed the high-profile rock bands Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd (and its lead singer, Johnny Van Zant).

During the meeting, while listening to McCloud’s music, one of Roeg’s contact lenses fell to the ground. While trying to retrieve the contact on the floor, Ertegun allegedly walked up behind her and reached his hand up her skirt, the lawsuit said. Roeg yelled and scooted away from Ertegun, who then commented on her legs, the suit said.

Another executive manager at the record company interrupted that meeting.

Sometime soon after, Ertegun asked to meet Roeg again, this time for dinner with two other Atlantic executives. After dinner, the two stopped at Ertegun’s apartment on their way to a club. While there, Ertegun allegedly placed his hand on Roeg’s knee, which Roeg moved aside, court documents said. She went to use the bathroom and returned to Ertegun masturbating in front of her, the suit alleges.

Even if you didn’t know a thing about Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, who died in December at 83, you’d instantly glean his monumental significance in the history of popular music from the footage of him in PBS’ latest “American Masters” documentary.

When she attempted to leave, Ertegun grabbed her and forced her against the wall, continuing to masturbate, according to the suit. She eventually managed to flee the apartment.

Ertegun continued his sexual advances toward Roeg for decades, including other instances of assault throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, according to court documents.

The lawsuit also alleged that Ertegun fostered a culture of misogyny and abuse toward women at Atlantic Records. That allegedly included sexual comments toward women during meetings, women leaving executive offices disheveled, executives bragging about sex with groupies during work trips. At the time, the company took a “laissez-faire approach to sexual misconduct” and did not have policies to prevent such behavior, nor was any training on how to report misconduct offered to employees, the suit said.

The label was aware of Ertegun’s alleged behavior of sexual harassment and assault toward female employees at the company, as well as female business associates, the lawsuit added, “yet the label allowed and enabled it to continue for decades, imposing suffering on and hampering the careers of countless women within and outside the company.”

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In 2017, Dorothy Carvello, Ertegun’s former assistant who went on to become Atlantic Record’s first female head of its artists-and-repertoire division, published a tell-all book about her experiences in the music industry. In “Anything for a Hit,” she alleged that Ertegun had tried to remove her underwear and reached his hands up her shirt while at a bar during a work trip in 1988.

The lawsuit referenced Carvello’s accounts of alleged sexual assault by Ertegun and also addressed a portion of her book where she described Roeg as Ertegun’s “girlfriend.” However, the suit said Roeg never engaged in any consensual intimate or sexual activity with Ertegun.

Ertegun, a Turkish-American businessman, was widely credited with helping to shape pop music through Atlantic Records beginning in the 1950s. The label was home to heavyweights such as Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Sonny & Cher and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, among many others.

Ertegun, who also founded the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1983, remained chairman of Atlantic Records until his death from a head injury resulting from a fall backstage at a Rolling Stones concert..


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