Grammy Drama: 7 Most Explosive Accusations by Ousted Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan

Dugan’s claims range from sexual harassment to financial irregularities to accusations of rape

Deborah Dugan, the former CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences ousted last week after less than a year, sent a detailed email to human resources outlining many instances of what she called corruption and misconduct at the organization that hands out the Grammy Awards.

The email — dated December 22, 2019 — touched off a series of events that led to Dugan’s departure from the organization and served as the basis for an EEOC discrimination complaint she filed on Tuesday. Here is a breakdown of the seven most damning allegations made by Dugan.

1. Dugan says her predecessor, former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow, had been accused of rape

Not long after she was hired last spring, Dugan said she learned “that a foreign recording artist (and member of the Academy) had accused Mr. Portnow of raping her following a performance that she gave at Carnegie Hall.”

Portnow could not be immediately reached for comment.

Dugan, who replaced Portnow last May to become the first woman to lead the Recording Academy, did not name the artist or offer many details about when the alleged incident might have occurred. In her complaint, Dugan said that she learned of the accusation last May while attending a three-day meeting of the Academy’s Board at the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel after taking the job.

2. She was asked to give former CEO Neil Portnow a $750,000 consulting fee

Despite the rape accusation against Portnow, Dugan said she was asked to hire the former CEO as a consultant after his contract had not been renewed by the Academy (the “official” reason for his depature) with a $750,000 consulting fee. She refused.

3. Dugan says she was sexually harassed by the Academy’s general counsel, Joel Katz, during a dinner in May 2019

Dugan said that Katz made advances toward her at a dinner last May, just after she was appointed as CEO (but before officially starting). “Over the course of the evening, Mr. Katz explained to me that he was very very rich and had many houses, one in Bermuda and other locations. And he reminded me that he had a private plane and informed me that he was lonely and had no one to spend time with. He suggested that spending time together, traveling to his many homes could be something nice for us to share. He talked about his marriage that had failed. I listened politely but made it clear I was not interested in his advances,” she wrote. “At the conclusion of dinner, he leaned forward, lips pursed, as to kiss me. I quickly turned and made my way out of the restaurant.” (Katz was not available for comment.)

4. The Academy was overpaying for legal work

Dugan expressed her belief that the legal fees charged by Katz, as well as other legal bills the Academy accrued, “seemed exorbitant.” She said she made it clear to the Executive Committee that addressing these high fees was a priority for her but during a November board meeting, “I was abruptly asked to leave an Executive Committee meeting.” And she said the Executive Committee subsequently “voted to raise legal fees.”

5. Board members were paying themselves for jobs they did not need to be doing

“I have also discovered that board members have approved payments to themselves in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars to oversee aspects of the Academy and Grammy events that do not need their oversight,” Dugan wrote. “For example, an Executive Committee member receives $100,000 for Grammy services provided by an outside production company.”

6. The Grammy nomination review process was tainted

Dugan expressed concerns about “irregularities and conflicts” in the Grammy nomination review process. In her EEOC complaint, she expounded on the topic and said Academy Board members try to “push forward artists with whom they have relationships” and “manipulates the nominations process to ensure that certain songs or albums are nominated when the producer of the Grammys (Ken Ehrlich) wants a particular song performed during the show.”

7. The Recording Academy is a “boys club” with many outstanding lawsuits

Dugan concluded her email by saying, “In my efforts to successfully resolve the many outstanding lawsuits facing the Academy that I inherited, one of the claimants characterized her experience of our organization’s leadership as ‘…it’s a boy’s club and they put their financial interest above the mission…’ At the time, I didn’t want to believe it, but now after 5 months of being exposed to the behavior and circumstances outlined here, I have come to suspect she is right.”

In response to Dugan’s EEOC claim filed on Tuesday, the Recording Academy said it had “launched independent investigations to review both Ms. Dugan’s potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations. Both of these investigations remain ongoing.”

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