Deborah Dugan Officially Terminated by Recording Academy

Deborah Dugan
Courtesy Photo

Deborah Dugan

The organization's board of trustees voted to terminate Dugan’s employment as president/CEO after placing her on administrative leave since Jan. 16.

The Recording Academy board of trustees officially terminated Deborah Dugan's employment as president/CEO on Monday (March 2) after placing her on paid administrative leave since Jan. 16.

The decision announced comes after two independent investigations related to Dugan: One into her allegations against the Recording Academy and another into multiple complaints made against Dugan by academy staff members, including her former assistant. Dugan's employment was terminated without any form of settlement or payout from the academy.

The academy also cites “the unwarranted and damaging media campaign that she launched in attempt, without justification, to derail the Grammy Awards show” and her “consistent management deficiencies and failures” as decision-making 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,” a statement from the nonprofit, which puts on the annual Grammy Awards, reads.

According to a statement from the academy, the investigations were carried out by individuals with no prior relationship to the academy and interviewed by a combined total of 37 witnesses.

Dugan’s official firing is the latest move in an increasingly ugly battle between the Recording Academy and its former leader, who joined in August 2019.

After being placed on administrative leave on Jan. 16 -- just 10 days before the 62nd annual awards -- amid allegations of workplace bullying, she filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the academy on Jan. 21, calling the academy a “boys’ club” with “corrupt” Grammys voting procedures. The academy has loudly refuted those claims, especially when pertaining to Grammys voting.

In the 44-page complaint, she also accused the organization’s general counsel, Joel Katz, of sexual harassment, and brought to light a previous allegation of rape filed against her predecessor, Neil Portnow. Katz and Portnow both deny the allegations.

While the two sides had initially tried to settle their dispute quietly, prior to Dugan’s suspension, the academy alleges that talks broke down after Dugan asked for $22 million to walk away. The academy countered with a multimillion-dollar offer, two sources told Billboard, but Dugan turned it down.

Last month, Dugan asked the academy to release her from the arbitration clause she signed as part of her employment agreement when she took the job. The academy denied her request, though it was willing to waive its confidentiality provision, allowing the process to play out publicly.

Dugan and the academy entered mediation to negotiate a settlement on Feb. 20.

“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,” said the Recording Academy executive committee in a letter to members announcing Dugan’s termination. “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.”

According to the letter, the academy will begin searching for a new president/CEO in the coming days, “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.” Board chair Harvey Mason Jr. has been serving as interim CEO.

“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,” the letter reads in closing. “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.”

Meanwhile, Dugan continues to allege that her efforts to change the academy and its culture were met with fierce resistance. Her appointment was seen as the start of a new era for the academy, whose former leader Portnow’s tenure was tarnished by controversial comments at the 2017 Grammy Awards when he said women in music should “step up” in order to be recognized.

In a statement to Billboard, Dugan’s attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and Michael J. Willemin of Wigdor LLP said: “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. The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, it’s leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable under the law.”