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Ousted Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan says she has 'evidence' of rigging

Ousted Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan claims she has evidence that the award process is rigged and rife with corruption.

Dugan filed an explosive complaint on Tuesday with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission alleging she was suspended after raising concerns of sexual harassment, voting irregularities and other misconduct within the Recording Academy.

She also claimed that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, raped an unnamed foreign female musician and that the Academy knew about the allegation. Portnow has since said the rape allegation is 'false and outrageous'. 

In an interview with Good Morning America on Thursday, Dugan opened up about having evidence of alleged rigging for Grammy Award nominations. 

Ousted Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan told GMA on Thursday she had evidence that the award process is rigged and rife with corruption

In her complaint, Dugan specifically mentioned the 2019 song of the year category and claims an artist who had a low-ranking song ended up with a Grammy nomination because they were represented by a member of the Academy's board. 

'I have evidence,' she said. 

Dugan refused to name the artist and did not elaborate on the evidence she has. 

Childish Gambino won the category at last year's Grammys with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Shawn Mendes and Lady Gaga nominated in the category. 

'The system should be transparent. There are incidents of conflicts of interests that taints the results,' Dugan said. 

'It's not even just that one room. I have evidence that in another room, cause there were complaints in the jazz category...'  

In a follow up interview with CBS This Morning, Dugan said board members represented some artists and, in some cases, nominees were in the room when the voting process took place. 

'There is a system of taking care of their own. Mostly white males that are in those rooms making those decisions,' Dugan said. 

'If you represent that artist, you have financial gain if that artist is nominated.'

'In that room, not only are there trustees that have conflict of interests on particular artists that are nominated but more importantly, there are even artists that are nominated that are in the room. 

'So for me that's just a blatant conflict of interest.' 

When asked if she thought the Grammy voting process was rigged, Dugan said: 'Yes, it is'.  

Dugan filed an explosive complaint on Tuesday with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. She is pictured above on GMA with her attorney Doug Wigdor

She also claimed that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, raped an unnamed foreign female musician and that the Academy knew about the allegation. Portnow has since said the rape allegation is 'false and outrageous' 

Dugan's 44-page filing dealt a major blow to the Recording Academy less than a week before the Grammys - music's biggest night of the year.   

She made history as the Recording Academy's first CEO. She was placed on administrative leave last week after just six months after she was accused of being abusive to an assistant. 

Dugan says she filed the discrimination complaint and is speaking out publicly after being 'severely retaliated against' by the Academy's board and her predecessor.   

Sexual harassment and misconduct 

In her complaint, Dugan said the academy has a culture of sexual misconduct and accused Neil Portnow, who was CEO for 17 years, of raping an unidentified 'foreign' female recording artist and Academy member following a performance at Carnegie Hall. 

She claimed the company knew about it but it's not clear when this assault took place. 

Dugan has claimed she was sexually harassed after entering the job by the company's top entertainment lawyer Joel Katz (above). Katz 'categorically and emphatically denies her version of that evening,' his attorney said

Dugan said she learned of the allegation against Portnow in a May 2019 board meeting shortly after she took the reigns. She said the board presented the information to her as if they just learned of it, but 'in reality, they were well aware of the allegation at the time Ms Dugan agreed to take on the CEO position, but never told her.' 

Portnow denied the allegation in a lengthy statement on Wednesday. 

'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.' 

Dugan also claimed she was sexually harassed after entering the job by the company's top entertainment lawyer Joel Katz. 

In the complaint, Dugan alleged that in May 2019, when she had accepted the CEO position but had not begun her work, she had dinner with Katz, the academy's general counsel, alone at his request in Laguna Niguel, California, on the eve of a meeting of the academy board.  

There, Katz acted 'extremely inappropriately,' according to the complaint, calling Dugan 'baby' and making 'an obvious and unwelcome attempt to 'woo' Ms. Dugan into a romantic relationship.' 

Dugan, the complaint said, made it clear she wasn't interested and was in a relationship, but he still attempted to kiss her at the end of the night. She 'quickly turned away, repulsed.' Katz continued the harassment in subsequent interactions, the complaint alleged.

She reported the sexual harassment in an email to human resources on December 22, 2019. 

Katz 'categorically and emphatically denies her version of that evening,' his attorney, Howard Weitzman, said in a statement. The statement said the dinner occurred two and a half months before Dugan started as CEO.

'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,' Weitzman's statement read. 

Dugan also claims Katz and his firm were paid inappropriately by the academy, and that his role representing both the academy and artists who are up for Grammys was a conflict of interest.  

Dugan filed an explosive complaint on Tuesday with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission alleging she was suspended after raising concerns of sexual harassment, voting irregularities and other misconduct within the Recording Academy

Gender Discrimination

In the complaint, Dugan claimed she was paid less than former academy CEO Neil Portnow and that she was also subject to retaliation for refusing to hire Portnow as a consultant for nearly half his former salary.

Portnow had been criticized for saying women need to 'step up' when asked backstage at the 2018 show why only two female acts won awards during the live telecast last year. 

A filing with the Internal Revenue Service shows that Portnow was paid $1.74 million in 2016. Dugan said she was pressured to hire him as a consultant for $750,000 annually. 

Former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow denies rape allegation 

'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 Directors 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.' 

Dugan's Grammys compensation was not revealed in Tuesday's filing. She earned nearly $537,000 in 2016 in her previous job as CEO of Bono's (RED) charity organization.  

However, on Wednesday Portnow denied demanding such a fee. 

'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,' he said. 

Rigged Grammy nominations 

The 44-page complaint details 'egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards'. 

Dugan alleges that nomination review committees oversee the award categories and rig the system in favor of artists, record labels and management firms that members have business deals with. 

Many of those members represent or have relationships with artists and manipulate who ends up nominated, she claims. 

'Rather than promoting a transparent nomination process the Board has decided to shroud the process in secrecy, and ultimately controls, in large part, who is nominated for Grammy Awards,' the complaint says. 

Just last year Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande had Top 100 songs with their hits Perfect and Thank U Next, but both missed Song of the Year nominations despite raking in enough votes. 

For the top four awards - Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist - committees select the final nominees from the top 20 contenders, based off ballots from its voting members. But the complaint said the committee members sometimes include artists who did not make it in the top 20 because of their personal or business relationships with those artists. 

'This year, 30 artists that were not selected by the membership were added to the possible nomination list,' the complaint read. 

She added that the board manipulates the process to ensure certain songs or albums are nominated if the show's producer wants a specific performance to be included for the show.  

Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande had Top 100 songs with their hits Perfect and Thank U Next but both missed Song of the Year nominations last year despite raking in enough votes, the complaint says

'The Board also 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 on the show,' it adds. 

She says the nomination system was so egregious, artists were permitted to sit on nomination committees. 

'Moreover, in an outrageous conflict of interest, the Board has selected artists who are under consideration for a nomination to sit on the committee that is voting for the category for which that have been nominated. As a result, one artist who initially ranked 18 out of 20 in the 2019 'Song of the Year' category ended up with a nomination. This artist was actually permitted to sit on the 'Song of the Year' nomination committee. Incredibly, this artist is also represented by a member of the Board,' the complaint states. 

The Recording Academy has not commented on the voting irregularity allegations. 

The Academy hits back  

Accusations have been flying back and forth between the academy and Dugan. 

Dugan was given the boot last week after she was accused of abusive behavior towards the executive assistant she inherited from Portnow, which she denied. 

The Los Angeles Times names that assistant as Claudine Little. 

The Recording Academy says that Dugan herself created a 'toxic and intolerable' working environment and was 'abusive and bullying' to the assistant. 

The company said she only unleashed her stream of allegations against the company after she was accused of abusive behavior.  

The academy said in a statement that it 'immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms Dugan's potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations. Both of these investigations remain ongoing.'    

On Monday, board chairman and interim President/CEO Harvey Mason Jr alleged Dugan demanded $22million to withdraw her charges against the academy and resign.  

'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.' When Ms. Dugan did raise her 'concerns' to HR, she specifically instructed HR 'not to take any action' in response,' a Recording academy spokesperson said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.   

'We immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms Dugan's potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations.... Ms Dugan was placed on administrative leave only after offering to step down and demanding $22million from the Academy..,' the statement added.  

After Portnow's scandal last year the Academy announced it would create a task force to examine 'conscious and unconscious bias' within the music industry and the academy itself, led by Michelle Obama's former chief of staff Tina Tchen. The panel issued 18 recommended changes in its final report released in December. 

The key finding was that there was a lack of diversity in the Academy's offices and voting members, and Board of Trustees.