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Deborah Dugan's Arbitration Could Be Delayed If Recording Academy Successfully Opposes Open Hearing

Deborah Dugan
David Buchan/Shutterstock

Deborah Dugan photographed at the 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2019. 

The Los Angeles hearing is currently slated to begin July 12.

The long-awaited arbitration hearing between the Recording Academy and former president/CEO Deborah Dugan is slated to begin July 12 in Los Angeles, but a pending ruling could delay it once more.

Within the last few weeks, the attorneys for the academy asked that the hearing be private, according to The New York Times. That action contradicts an open letter from then academy interim president/CEO Harvey Mason Jr. to Dugan on Feb. 4, 2020, two weeks after she was put on leave, that said the academy had waived the confidentiality provision included in the arbitration clause of Dugan’s employment agreement.

Mason Jr.'s letter was a response to a previous letter from Dugan asking for the provision to be waived. The New York Times first reported the academy’s new objections to an open hearing and a source later confirmed to Billboard.

“We acknowledge your request for ‘transparency and accountability’ as set forth in your January 29, 2020 letter to the Executive Committee, and we wholeheartedly agree with your proposal to have the dispute between you and the Academy heard publicly -- so that the ‘public and the music industry’ can hear what happened between you and the Academy,” wrote Mason to Dugan. “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,”

Mason was named the official president/CEO of the academy on May 13, following a protracted search.

Now, the academy’s attorney, Anthony Oncidi of Proskauer Rose, has written the arbitrator, Sara Adler, asking that the hearing be private, according to the New York Times, stating that Mason’s letter pertained only to the “disclosure of ‘the existence, content or result of any arbitration,’” and not for an open hearing.

One of Dugan’s attorneys, Michael Willemin of Wigdor LLP, responded in writing, according to the New York Times, that the two parties had already agreed to a public hearing and “therefore, it must be open to the public unless Ms. Dugan agrees otherwise.” It is typical for arbitration hearings to be closed to the public.

It is unknown when Adler is expected to announce her decision regarding the academy’s request. Should Adler rule in the academy’s favor, Dugan’s attorneys are expected to go to court to have the hearing opened to the public. Depending upon the court’s schedule, that could delay the hearing’s start.

In January 2020, five months after Dugan was hired, the academy placed her on administration leave following allegations of workplace bullying. A few days later, Dugan swung back with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination complaint alleging the real reason for her being placed on leave was because she had uncovered and threatened to expose academy misconduct, including Grammy voting irregularities, conflicts of interest among board members as well as with its outside attorneys, and sexual harassment by academy attorney Joel Katz. (Katz has denied the allegations.)

Oncidi, the Recording Academy and Adler did not respond to requests for comment. Willemin declined to comment.