Ousted Recording Academy president/CEO Deborah Dugan appeared on Thursday’s Good Morning America (Jan. 23), where she detailed the reasons behind the discrimination complaint she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Tuesday (Jan. 21) against the Academy. Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 16 amid allegations of workplace bullying, laid out some of the allegations in her complaint in the appearance, including an alleged incident of sexual harassment at the hands of the Academy’s outside general counsel. [Watch video of her appearance below.]
“When I came in as the first CEO of the Recording Academy in 62 years, female, there are definitely amazing, amazing people that work there in the Recording Academy and on the board,” Dugan said. “But at the very onset, in fact under the guise of a work dinner I was propositioned by the general counsel… entertainment lawyer of enormous, enormous power in the industry [referring to the Academy’s outside general counsel Joel Katz] starting with calling me ‘babe’ and saying how attractive I was and pretty I was. The evening went on to kiss… trying to kiss me… and all the way through I felt like I was being tested in how much would I acquiesce? I realized that was a power-setting move just on the onset as I was coming onto the committee.”
Dugan’s complaint described how she sent an email to the Academy’s managing director Shonda Grant on Dec. 22 alleging sexual harassment, “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards.” She said the behavior was made possible by the organization’s “boys’ club mentality and approach.”
Flanked by her attorney, Douglas Wigdor, Dugan responded to a statement on Wednesday from some of the women on the Recording Academy’s executive committee, who denied the “boy’s club” atmosphere.
Wigdor, described the Academy as being on “life support right now,” referring to the organization’s counterclaims that Dugan created a “toxic” work environment. “They are in panic mode right now. The fact of the matter is this: Deborah, right here, she worked for eight years as an executive at EMI. She worked for eight years as a president at Disney. She worked for eight years for Bono at RED raising hundreds of millions of dollars to eradicate AIDS. She never once filed an HR complaint and there was never once an HR complaint filed against her.”
Katz has denied Dugan’s claims, which also include allegations that she was asked by current chair of the board, John Poppo, to rehire former Academy CEO Neil Portnow as a consultant at a $750,000 annual salary and though she had been asked to assume Portnow’s position, she was paid substantially less than her two male predecessors. Dugan has also claimed that Portnow was allegedly accused by a foreign female recording artist (and a member of the Academy) of raping her following a performance that she gave at Carnegie Hall. This information, the complaint states, had been withheld from Dugan by the Recording Academy Board until after Dugan agreed to take the CEO position; Portnow has denied the allegations, dubbing them “ludicrous and untrue.”
Asked by GMA host George Stephanopoulos why she didn’t bring up any of the allegations until after she was accused of misconduct, Dugan said “all along” she had been bringing up what she said was going on behind the scenes, with Wigdor arguing that she was put on administrative leave only after she filed the formal complaint.
“No, it was weeks after, she was not on administrative leave,” said Wigdor. “What happened was she filed the complaint then she was placed on administrative leave.” He noted that the complaint against Dugan was filed by an executive assistant who had worked for Portnoy, a staffing scenario he characterized as being unusual for an executive at Dugan’s level.
When Stephanopoulos wondered why Dugan wrote in her complaint that she wasn’t asking the Academy to take action “at this time” if the allegations were so serious, Dugan said it was because she was determined to make change from within the organization she had moved across the country to work for. “I believe in what the Recording Academy should stand for for artists and I was trying at each step to take a deep breath and say, ‘Okay, I can make a difference, I can fix this. I can work with this team,'” she said.
The complaint also alleges that the Grammy voting process is “ripe with corruption” and allows nomination committee members to “push forward artists with whom they have relationships.” The complaint states, “It is not unusual for artists who have relationships with Board members and who ranked at the bottom of the initial 20-artist list to end up receiving nominations.”
Dugan told GMA she believes the process should be more transparent and that there are incidents of conflicts of interest that “taint the results. I couldn’t say more positive things about all of the nominations and everybody that performs and, oh my God, I hate that I’m in this situation because I’d much rather be here talking about the artists and the music,” she said.
Dugan would not go into details about the specific artist who she claimed was allowed to sit in on the nomination process, but did suggest that “there were complaints made in the jazz category.” Calling the situation “very serious,” Dugan added that she wouldn’t have appeared on GMA if she didn’t think she could make a difference, noting that on Thursday she was supposed to be giving a speech on women in music during Billboard’s Power 100 event.
The Recording Academy issued a statement responding to Dugan’s complaint earlier this week, which read: “It is curious that Ms. Dugan never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally by a female employee who alleged Ms. Dugan had created a ‘toxic and intolerable’ work environment and engaged in ‘abusive and bullying conduct’. When Ms. Dugan did raise her “concerns” to HR, she specifically instructed HR “not to take any action” in response.
“Nonetheless, we immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms. Dugan’s potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations. Both of these investigations remain ongoing. Ms. Dugan was placed on administrative leave only after offering to step down and demanding $22 million from the Academy, which is a not-for-profit organization. Our loyalty will always be to the 25,000 members of the recording industry. We regret that Music’s Biggest Night is being stolen from them by Ms. Dugan’s actions and we are working to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”
The organization has not responded to requests for further comment.
Asked if she would watch the Grammys on Sunday night (Jan. 26), Dugan said she would. When Stephanopoulos followed up by wondering if we could do so in good conscience, Dugan paused momentarily and said, “yes, I think so.”
Watch Dugan’s appearance on GMA below.