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Recording Academy & Ousted CEO Deborah Dugan Reach Settlement

Deborah Dugan
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Deborah Dugan speaks onstage at the GRAMMY Nominations Press Conference at CBS Studios on Nov. 20, 2019 in New York City.

The two parties had been scheduled to start arbitration on July 12.

Three weeks before the Recording Academy and ousted CEO/president Deborah Dugan were set to enter arbitration in Los Angeles, the parties have reached a settlement.

“The Recording Academy and Deborah Dugan have agreed to resolve their differences and to keep the terms of their agreement private," the two parties said in a joint statement.

The settlement ends a particularly ugly period in the Recording Academy’s history.

On Jan. 16, 2020 -- less than two weeks before that year’s Grammy Awards and five months after Dugan was hired -- the academy placed her on administrative leave following allegations of workplace bullying, later stating that she had initially “demanded $22 million” to step down. (The Recording Academy countered with a multi-million dollar offer which she turned down.)

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 denied the allegations.)

The academy formally dismissed Dugan on March 2, 2020. Board chair Harvey Mason Jr., who had already assumed the interim CEO/president’s position after Dugan was placed on leave, ran the academy in that capacity until May of this year, when he was officially named CEO/president.

While still interim chief, this April, Mason oversaw the decision by the academy to end the nominations review committees, which Dugan had claimed were rife with conflicts of interest. The committees determined which artists made the final Grammy ballot in 59 of 84 categories.

A few weeks later, as the two parties headed toward arbitration, the attorneys for the academy asked that the hearing be private, according to The New York Times.

That action seemingly contradicted an open letter from Mason to Dugan dated 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's letter was a response to a previous letter from Dugan asking for the provision to be waived.

The academy’s attorney, Proskauer Rose’s Anthony Oncidi had claimed that having an open arbitration would reveal confidential information and emotionally distress witnesses, according to the New York Times.

Clearly, before arbitrator Sara Adler could rule on the academy’s request, the two parties reached a settlement.

The news of the settlement comes days after the academy has made more substantive changes, some of which also dealt with issues raised initially by Dugan. During her short tenure, she had questioned why the academy relied on outside counsel, paying an average of $3 million per year in fees, in particular to Katz’s former firm Greenberg Traurig and to Proskauer Rose. Billboard reported on June 15 that the academy is now looking for in-house general counsel.

This week, in a major overhaul in the leadership structure, the academy announced that Mason would retain his CEO title and would be joined by two co-presidents, Valeisha Butterfield Jones and Panos A. Panay.