Recording Academy Says Deborah Dugan Arbitration Can Play Out in Public

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

"The Recording Academy has absolutely nothing to hide and, in fact, welcomes the opportunity to tell its story."

The Recording Academy has denied embattled president/CEO Deborah Dugan’s request for release from the arbitration agreement she signed before joining the nonprofit organization in August 2019, but says it is willing to waive its confidentiality provision -- meaning the process can play out publicly. 

As part of her employment contract, Dugan had agreed to arbitrate any future disputes between herself and the academy confidentially and in private. The Recording Academy is agreeing to waive the confidentiality provision in the arbitration clause, but is holding Dugan to the arbitration agreement instead of signing off on possibly allowing the dispute to move to civil litigation through the courts. 

“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,” Dugan wrote in a Jan. 29 letter to the executive committee of the academy's board of trustees asking for the release. “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."

“You and the Recording Academy negotiated and signed your Employment Agreement fewer than nine months ago,” states a letter issued Tuesday (Feb. 4) signed by Harvey Mason Jr., the chair of the Recording Academy’s board of trustees, on behalf to the board’s executive committee. “You were represented in those negotiations by a lawyer of your choosing, and you agreed at that time to all of the terms and conditions of the Employment Agreement,” including resolving disputes through “a mutually-selected neutral arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association.... Arbitration has been uniformly recognized by courts and commentators alike as an entirely fair process for achieving justice, while usually being far less costly than full-blown civil litigation.” 

Mason is also serving as interim CEO of the Recording Academy, since Dugan was placed on administrative leave 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, 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.

While the two sides don't agree on much, the Recording Academy agrees to the “transparency and accountability” that Dugan requested.

“The Recording Academy has absolutely nothing to hide and, in fact, welcomes the opportunity to tell its story so that the entire music community and the world can hear the truth -- and nothing but the truth -- about what you did to this proud institution during your brief tenure as President/CEO,” Mason’s letter states. “In short, we welcome a full public airing of your allegations against the Academy as well as the Academy’s many claims and defenses against you.”

The Recording Academy asks that following its agreement to waive the confidentiality agreement, Dugan confirm in writing a reciprocal waiver agreeing to the same. “If you truly want a process with ‘transparency and accountability’ then please join us in waiving the confidentiality provision of the contract. As soon as you notify us in writing of your consent, we can proceed with resolving this matter out in the open, and for all the world to see.”

Responding to the letter, Dugan’s attorney, Douglas Wigdor, told Billboard, “The Recording Academy’s efforts at portraying arbitration as a fair process for employees is disingenuous as everyone knows arbitration unfairly favors, protects, and insulates employers from their unlawful actions. It is telling that the Recording Academy is unwilling to allow a jury of Ms. Dugan’s peers decide this matter.”

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