Embattled Grammy Chief Asks Recording Academy to Make Legal Docs Public: 'I Have Nothing to Hide'

Deborah Dugan
Raymond Hall/GC Images

Deborah Dugan is seen on the set of "Good Morning America" on Jan. 24, 2020 in New York City.  

"The public and the music industry have the right to know what is going on behind closed doors at the Academy."

The 2020 Grammy Awards are over, but the turmoil between the Recording Academy and its embattled president/CEO, Deborah Dugan, rages on. And Dugan wants it to happen in plain sight.

In a letter sent to the academy's executive committee of the board Wednesday (Jan. 29), Dugan asks to be released from the arbitration agreement she signed when she joined the nonprofit organization in August 2019. As part of her employment contract, she agreed to arbitrate any future disputes between herself and the academy confidentially and in private. 

"The Academy intentionally brought this dispute to the public's attention, and I am asking you to agree to let the public and music industry access the legal proceedings to come in this case," Dugan writes. "I have nothing to hide. The public and the music industry have the right to know what is going on behind closed doors at the Academy." 

The academy placed Dugan on administrative leave on Jan. 16, after a senior staffer, understood to be Claudine Little -- former president/CEO Neil Portnow's longtime right hand -- accused her of misconduct. Five days later, Dugan filed a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in which she included a memo she had sent the academy on Dec. 22 alleging "egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members and voting irregularities" with respect to the Grammys. The Academy has launched investigations into both the assistant's accusations of misconduct and the allegations in Dugan's complaint. 

Dugan goes on, "To the extent that the Academy is successful in forcing me to arbitrate my claims, it will simultaneously be denying the music industry and the public at large information concerning the issues raised in my EEOC Charge, including, among other things, discrimination, wasteful spending, sexual harassment, self-dealing, conflicts of interest and irregularities in the Grammys voting process."

"Forced arbitration takes away a victim's right to a trial by a jury of her peers, and at the same time provides protection for perpetrators of misconduct," she later adds. "This double-edged sword perpetuates misconduct in the workplace and allows corporate entities -- which are universally the 'client' of the arbitrator in the employment context -- to sweep unlawful conduct under the rug."

Recording Academy Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion chair Tina Tchen is cc'd on the letter via email. That task force issued its own statement on the matter on Jan. 23, calling on the academy's board of trustees to implement "systemic changes."

Later in the letter, Dugan broadens her request, requesting the academy release her "and all other individuals from any and all arbitration agreements" -- as she says other companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft are doing in sexual harassment and some other cases.

She also argues that the academy's investigation into both claims is "completely biased" because, she says, the investigator retained by the academy was "handpicked" by Proskauer Rose, LLP -- which she identified in her EEOC charge as "one of the law firms that is 'in bed' with the Academy." Proskauer partner Chuck Ortner is national legal counsel to the academy. "To make matters worse," Dugan writes, the attorney at Proskauer that retained the investigator -- Anthony Oncidi -- also represented the academy against herself after she sent the complaints that are the subject of the investigation. 

"I am proposing that we, together, mutually select an investigator who is independent and who would report to all parties and not just the Academy," she says at the end of the letter. "At a very minimum, an investigator retained by my counsel should be permitted to work jointly with your investigator and have full access to all documents, witnesses and other evidence."

Over email, the Recording Academy provided the following response to Billboard: “Ms. Dugan continues to attempt to manage public perceptions through misinformation. The Recording Academy is weighing all of the available information and considering our options as it relates to the next steps with Ms. Dugan. We remain extremely disappointed in how she is choosing to handle the situation and strongly disagree with many of her claims. At this point, we are focused on the future and are excited about continuing the agenda of change and progress.”

Reps for Proskauer Rose, LLP did not respond to Billboard's immediate request for comment. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Recording Academy. 

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