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Recording Academy Fires Deborah Dugan After Investigation Validates ‘Serious Complaints’ and ‘Poor Judgment’

Ousted Grammys boss was placed on administrative leave in January

The Recording Academy has fired president and CEO Deborah Dugan, who was put on administrative leave just days before the Grammy Awards in January following accusations of “misconduct” made by a female employee, the organization announced in a letter to members Monday.

Following the Recording Academy’s decision to place Dugan on leave, the exec filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the organization in which she accused them of multiple instances of misconduct.

“Dear Members, As you know, Deborah Dugan has been on a paid administrative leave of absence since January 16, 2020,” states the letter from the Recording Academy’s Executive Committee, which was obtained by TheWrap. “We are writing to let you know that, earlier today, the Board of Trustees voted to terminate Ms. Dugan’s employment as President/CEO of the Recording Academy.”

“This decision of the Board, with full support of the Executive Committee, was based on: Two exhaustive, costly independent investigations relating to Ms. Dugan and the allegations made against her and by her,” the letter continues. “These investigations were carried out by experienced individuals with no prior relationship to the Academy, interviewed a combined total of 37 witnesses, and reviewed numerous relevant documents and emails. The investigators were not given any directives about what specifically to investigate or what conclusions, if any, they were expected to reach, and they were not limited by the Academy in terms of what witnesses they could interview or files or documents they could review. Each investigator had free rein to fully investigate all of the allegations that were made against Ms. Dugan and by Ms. Dugan against the Recording Academy. The unwarranted and damaging media campaign that she launched in an attempt, without justification, to derail the Grammy Awards show, including her false allegations that the system was — in her words — ‘rigged’ and that the Academy was corrupt.'”

Dugan’s attorneys are fuming over the Recording Academy’s decision to fire their client, and to “immediately leak that information to the press.”

“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,” her lawyers, Douglas H. Wigdor and Michael J. Willemin of Wigdor LLP, said in a statement on Monday. “The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, its leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable under the law.”

After being placed on leave in January, Dugan filed a complaint with the EEOC that accused the Academy of corruption and included accusations that the Academy’s private counsel, Joel Katz, sexually harassed her (Katz denied those claims) and said that she learned her predecessor, Neil Portnow, was accused of raping an unnamed female recording artist following a performance at Carnegie Hall (Portnow called the accusations “ludicrous and untrue” and said an independent investigation had exonerated him).

The Academy defended itself against the accusations of Grammy-voting corruption, calling the claim “categorically false, misleading and wrong.”

“After weighing all of the evidence from two independent investigations, the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy voted to terminate Ms. Dugan from her role as President/CEO,” Recording Academy chair and interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr said in a statement to TheWrap. “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. Our focus now will be on the transformation agenda we initiated prior to hiring Ms. Dugan, and on working to improve the Academy. Much of this work has been happening but much of it is yet to come. We realize that we are not perfect, and we will use this moment to reflect on where we can be better, and pledge to realize a future in which our organization is known for its diversity, transparency, creativity, mutual respect, and overall excellence.”

Tammy Hurt, the Recording Academy’s vice chair of the National Board of Trustees added: “The investigation overwhelmingly confirmed the serious complaints that had been lodged against her by a multitude of Academy staff members. 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,” Christine Albert, chair emeritus of the Academy’s National Board of Trustees, said. “There was just no way she could continue to serve this organization.”

See the Recording Academy executive committee’s full letter to members regarding Dugan’s firing below.

Dear Members:

As you know, Deborah Dugan has been on a paid administrative leave of absence since January 16, 2020. We are writing to let you know that, earlier today, the Board of Trustees voted to terminate Ms. Dugan’s employment as President/CEO of the Recording Academy.

This decision of the Board, with full support of the Executive Committee, was based on:

Two exhaustive, costly independent investigations relating to Ms. Dugan and the allegations made against her and by her. These investigations were carried out by experienced individuals with no prior relationship to the Academy, interviewed a combined total of 37 witnesses, and reviewed numerous relevant documents and emails. The investigators were not given any directives about what specifically to investigate or what conclusions, if any, they were expected to reach, and they were not limited by the Academy in terms of what witnesses they could interview or files or documents they could review. Each investigator had free rein to fully investigate all of the allegations that were made against Ms. Dugan and by Ms. Dugan against the Recording Academy. The unwarranted and damaging media campaign that she launched in an attempt, without justification, to derail the GRAMMY Awards show, including her false allegations that the system was — in her words — “rigged” and that the Academy was “corrupt.”

Ms. Dugan’s consistent management deficiencies and failures, and other factors. All of this led the elected leaders of the Academy to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Academy to move on.

This is not what we wanted or what we expected when we hired Ms. Dugan last year. At the time, we placed our trust in her and believed she would effectively lead the organization. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Though she made some valuable contributions, Ms. Dugan failed to perform her job duties as promised and expected.

Although we did participate in some settlement discussions at Ms. Dugan’s request after she stated that it was her desire to leave the Academy and be bought out of her employment contract, we were ultimately compelled to dismiss Ms. Dugan as our President/CEO. Not removing Ms. Dugan from the organization at this time would have caused us to compromise our values. We could not reward her with a lucrative settlement and thereby set a precedent that behavior like hers has no consequence. Our members and employees, and the entire music industry, deserve better than that.

The Board’s decision to dismiss Ms. Dugan closes one chapter in the Recording Academy’s history. It also begins a new one. In the coming days, we will initiate a search for a new President/CEO 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.

It is not uncommon for organizations and leaders to part ways after a short period. It usually happens without rancor. Unfortunately, in this case, Ms. Dugan sought to damage our reputation on her way out, and it is likely we will see more attempts to disparage the Academy in the coming
weeks. We regret that, as members of the Academy, you have had to endure so much recent negativity.

From this point forward, our focus will be on moving forward with the transformation agenda we initiated prior to hiring Ms. Dugan, and on working to improve the Academy. Much of this work has been happening but much of it is yet to come. We realize that we are not perfect, but we want you to know that our attention and energy will remain squarely on you and on the positive changes we are making together. We will not be distracted from that. We will use this moment to reflect on where we can be better, and pledge to realize a future in which our organization is known for its diversity, transparency, creativity, mutual respect, and overall excellence.

Thank you for your support and continued service and commitment to the Recording Academy.

-The Executive Committee of the Recording Academy