What You Need to Know About the Grammys Rape and Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Starr Bowenbank
Photo credit: DON EMMERT - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Last night, you were probably minding your business and scrolling aimlessly through your phone when a huge bomb dropped about the biggest night in music—the Grammy Awards. Previously held in high regard for its keen ability to recognize talent and award those who have made strides in the music industry, the Recording Academy is now facing serious allegations of discrimination, sexual assault, corruption, and favoritism ahead of the 2020 Grammys on Sunday.

It all started when former Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan was removed from her position last Thursday—with only 10 days until showtime—with little explanation. Initial reports claimed that Dugan was placed on leave after an allegation of “misconduct by a senior leader at the organization” was filed, which sounds rather...vague. But then Dugan’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, let it be known that there is apparently much more to Dugan’s sudden removal than meets the eye.

“What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told. When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you ‘step up’ at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit,” Bryan said in a passionate statement to the Associated Press on Friday.

Today, Dugan’s story is finally getting out, and it is a doozy. Please allow me to break down these brow-raising accusations in excruciating detail so you can figure out if you still want to watch the award ceremony come Sunday night.

Deborah Dugan Said She Was Sexually Harassed and Put on “Administrative Leave” to Cover It Up

On Thursday, it was announced that Dugan was “stepping down” as the Recording Academy’s CEO. Now, she’s claiming that she was sexually harassed by Joel Katz—a key Recording Academy executive—and was placed on administrative leave because she threatened to bring her accusations to light.

Photo credit: John Lamparski - Getty Images

Dugan filed a 46-page discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), saying her ousting stemmed from an e-mail she sent on December 22, 2019 to the Recording Academy’s head of human resources. The e-mail detailed the alleged harassment she experienced from Katz.

According to Dugan’s complaint, Katz came on to her while they were having a one-on-one dinner in May 2019 during a three-day Academy meeting in California. In addition to complimenting her appearance multiple times, Dugan said Joel frequently called her “baby” and tried to kiss her. Katz reportedly told her that “traveling to my many homes could be something nice for us to share.”

During her appearance on Good Morning America, Dugan expanded on her allegations, saying that Katz tried to kiss her as well. Dugan remembered feeling like Katz's advances was a game for him to see how far she'd possibly go. "Starting with calling me 'babe' and saying how attractive I was and 'pretty' I was... the evening went on to [him] trying to kiss me," she recalled of the night they had dinner. "All the way through I felt that I was being tested and how much would I acquiesce. I realized that was a power setting move just on the onset."

Katz’s attorney, Howard Weitzman, denied Dugan’s sexual misconduct claims in a statement to Rolling Stone, which reads:

“Ms. Dugan’s allegations of harassment and her description of a dinner at the steakhouse in the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel, are false and Mr. Katz categorically and emphatically denies her version of that evening.

“This dinner meeting was two-and-half months before Ms. Dugan started her job. Mr. Katz believed they had a productive and professional meeting in a restaurant where a number of members of the Board of Trustees of the Academy, and others, were dining.

“Ms. Dugan’s claims are made, for the first time, seven months after this dinner took place. Mr. Katz will cooperate in any and all investigations or lawsuits by telling the absolute and whole truth. Hopefully Ms. Dugan will do the same.”

Former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow Allegedly Raped an Artist, According to Dugan’s Complaint

Before Dugan began her role as the Recording Academy’s CEO, she said she was ushered into a conference room with a “foreign recording artist” and Academy member. Dugan said, in that room, the artist revealed she was raped by former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow after a show at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

Although the artist chose to remain unnamed, “a psychiatrist has confirmed that the sexual encounter between her and Mr. Portnow was likely not consensual,” according to the artist’s attorney.

Dugan believed that some members of the Academy knew about the rape allegations, while others didn’t “despite the fact that they were supposed to be voting the following day on whether to give Mr. Portnow a bonus for his past work for the Academy,” according to her complaint. “Ms. Dugan quickly advised that the vote on a bonus could not go forward until the full Board was told of the rape allegation.”

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The timing of this was rather suspect, considering Dugan was approached by the Board and asked to hire Neil as a consultant for $750,000. She refused. Neil has not yet responded to the allegations against him, but an anonymous “major label CEO” told Variety, “It was a well-known fact that Joel Katz protected Neil Portnow for many years.”

Neil Portnow Denied Dugan's Rape Allegations in a Statement

After Dugan's bombshell complaint caught fire, Portnow made a point to deny Dugan's claims that he raped a foreign recording artist. He released a statement about it, and called the allegations against him "ludicrous and untrue."

Portnow's statement in full, below:

"This document is filled with inaccurate, false and outrageous and terribly hurtful claims against me. Here is what is true:

The allegations of rape are ludicrous, and untrue. The suggestion that there was is disseminating a lie. The baseless complaint about my conduct referenced in the EEOC filing was immediately brought to the attention of the Board of Director’s Executive Committee. An in-depth independent investigation by experienced and highly regarded lawyers was conducted and I was completely exonerated. There was no basis for the allegations and once again I deny them unequivocally.

I fulfilled the terms and responsibilities of my contract during my 17 years as President and ultimately Chief Executive Officer. Consistent with my pledge to ensure that there would be the appropriate amount of time for the Academy to organize and execute an efficient and transparent transition, I determined far in advance of the Grammy telecast in 2018 that I would not seek a further extension of my contract scheduled to end July 31, 2019. I informed the then Board Chair and Executive Committee of my decision. At no time did I ever demand a $750,000 consulting fee.

After making the ‘step up’ comment during the 2018 telecast, for which I have apologized and deeply regret the offense caused, and understanding the power of listening and lessons learned, I took action. I proposed, and the Academy created an independent Task Force to review the state of diversity & inclusion across the organization. After presenting the Task Force plan and proposed study of the organization to the board, the group was created to implement change. Task Force Chair Tina Tchen made a presentation to the full Board during a May 2019 meeting.

The repetition of these falsehoods against me, and others referenced within the EEOC filing are a diversionary tactic and will not convert them to truth. I will vigorously defend all false claims made against me in this document.

I would like to wish all the 2020 nominees and those in our creative community well and sincerely hope that they will celebrate their art and accomplishments this weekend at the Grammy Awards telecast and during the many Grammy Week events ahead."

Dugan Said the Grammy Voting Process Is Allegedly Rampant With Corruption and Favoritism

Another bombshell revelation from Dugan is that the Grammy nominations process is allegedly in the hands of the Academy’s Board of Trustees, for the most part. Her complaint alleges “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the ‘boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance at the Academy.” In basic terms, she’s claimed that the Board of Trustees controls a big part of who is nominated, but because they operate in their own self-interest, the nominations tend to be in their favor.

Board members apparently often represent artists who are being considered for nominations, which complicates the process. The complaint also brings up a specific instance when an unnamed artist who ranked toward the bottom of the list of potential nominees for Song of the Year 2019 actually sat in with the nomination committee and had a Board member represent them. This unnamed artist was able to secure a nomination in the category even though they were a long shot, over Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran.

Executive Women of the Recording Academy's Board of Trustees Denied Dugan's "Boys Club" Allegations

Dugan's complaint also made a critique of the Board members "boys club" mentality, hinting at underlying tensions as a result of sexism within the company...despite their public efforts to raise the bar with diversity and inclusion.

Executive women that serve on the Recording Academy's Board of Trustees—Tammy Hurt, Christine Albert, Leslie Ann Jones, and Terry Jones— denied Dugan's claims of a "boys club." In fact, the women released a joint letter to counter Dugan's complaint, saying that they wouldn't have sacrificed so much of their personal time for a career in the Recording Academy if Dugan's alleged "boys club" system was in place.

They wrote:

As women, voting members, creative artists and entrepreneurs who serve on the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy, we are deeply committed to this organization and its affiliates and the good work that is done beyond the GRAMMY Awards – advocating for artists’ rights, providing critical assistance for music people in times of need and educating, mentoring and inspiring the next generation of music makers.

Along with our male colleagues, we have made great strides in increasing our diversity throughout the organization, both in leadership at the national level, within our twelve chapters around the country, and in the nominations. Diversity has always been a priority – although admittedly, not always easy to accomplish. The partnership with the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, led by Tina Tchen and established in May 2018, amplified those efforts, created a clear path to follow and opened the door to building even more bridges to the music community at large. We pledge to continue those efforts.

It is deeply disturbing to us – and quite frankly, heartbreaking – to witness the firestorm against our organization that has been unleashed. The Academy is keenly sensitive to any and all allegations of harassment or abuse, and we support the independent investigations that have been launched. Thank you for your patience as these continue.

We have collectively volunteered many years of service guiding and supporting this organization. We would not have taken precious time away from our families and careers if we felt that it was a “boys’ club.” We are leaders of this organization and fully committed to transformational change both within the Academy and within our industry at large.

We stand ready to address all concerns, allegations and accusations with facts in hand. In the meantime we continue to pursue our mission of recognizing musical excellence, advocating for the well-being of music makers and ensuring music remains an indelible part of our culture.

Tammy Hurt, Vice-Chair
Christine Albert, Chair Emeritus
Leslie Ann Jones, Trustee, Executive Committee Member
Terry Jones, Trustee, Executive Committee Member



The Recording Academy Claimed Dugan Filed Her Complaint After Separate Allegations Were Made Against Her

The Recording Academy stepped in and gave their side of the story, alleging that Dugan only came forward with her claims of sexual harassment, favoritism, and sexism only after an unnamed female employee filed a complaint against Dugan for creating a toxic work environment rife with bullying. The academy also revealed that Dugan is under investigation for her conduct towards employees, in addition to the ongoing investigation surrounding the allegations she made about Katz, Portnow, and the Board of Trustee's corruption.

“It is curious that Ms. Dugan never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally by a female employee who alleged Ms. Dugan had created a ‘toxic and intolerable’ work environment and engaged in ‘abusive and bullying conduct,’” the academy wrote in a statement.

According to the academy, Dugan “was placed on administrative leave only after offering to step down and demanding $22 million from the Academy, which is a not-for-profit organization.”

We’ll update this story as we hear more ahead of the 2020 Grammys.

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