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Recording Academy Investigating Deborah Dugan’s Joel Katz Sexual Harassment Claim

Recording Academy interim CEO/president Harvey Mason updated the organization's elected officials, including noting that an independent investigation of embattled CEO/president Deborah Dugan's sexual…

Embattled Recording Academy CEO/president Deborah Dugan’s allegation of sexual harassment against the Recording Academy’s general counsel, Greenberg Traurig’s Joel Katz, is “being independently investigated by a law firm with no previous ties to the Academy,” according to missives sent to the organization’s elected leaders by Academy interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr.  Thursday (Feb. 13).

Mason, who is the chairman of the board of trustees, did not name Katz by name, but added that “we take that allegation very seriously.”

Dugan, who replaced outgoing CEO/president Neil Portnow on Aug. 1, was placed on leave Jan. 16 following an allegation of misconduct made by a female staffer. Dugan filed a Jan. 21 complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging Katz’s sexual harassed her during a one-on-one dinner, as well as claimed financial and voting improprieties by the Academy.


Following the harassment allegation, Katz’s attorney, Howard Weitzman, issued a statement declaring that Katz “emphatically denies [Dugan’s] version of that evening,” and that “Mr. Katz will cooperate in any and all investigations or lawsuits by telling the absolute and whole truth. Hopefully Ms. Dugan will do the same.”

The two memos, which went to national and branch elected officials, restated much of what Mason has already publicly said, but did address some of Dugan’s other allegations, including questioning the legal fees paid by the Academy to law firms Greenberg Traurig and Proskauer Rose. Over the last several years, their fees have tallied more than $15 million, including a one-time $5 million bonus paid to Greenberg Traurig for negotiating a new $500 million, 10-year deal with CBS to broadcast the Grammy Awards through 2026. 

 “Viewed as a percentage of the size of deals our lawyers negotiated, our legal fees are well in line with industry standards,” Mason writes. “While hiring a full time in-house counsel would not eliminate the need for the use of expert law firms and could actually increase overall legal costs, the Academy was and remains willing to consider doing so if it will result in a savings to the Academy.” 


Mason noted that the Academy has “begun the arbitration process called for in [Dugan’s] employment agreement,” and, as Mason has previously told the membership, the Academy had offered to waive the confidentiality provision usually surrounding arbitration. However, as Billboard reported, the Academy is holding Dugan to the arbitration agreement instead of signing off on possibly allowing the dispute to move to civil litigation through the courts, as she had requested. 

Mason also stated that the Academy “cannot begin a search [for a new CEO] until the situation with the current CEO is resolved.” 

The memos also updated the officials on inclusion efforts. As Mason and Laura Segura Mueller,  Academy vp, membership & industry relations, told Billboard in an interview on Wednesday (Feb. 12), the Academy remains committed to advancing diversity and plans to implement 17 of the 18 recommendations made by the Tina Tchen-led Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and will meet with the task force within 45 days to review.  “The suggestion that Deb was hindered by the Academy’s resistance to change is simply untrue, and we are continuing on the path of change even during this time.” 


Following Dugan’s criticisms of the Grammy voting procedures, Mason acknowledged there is work to be done. “We do realize that the nomination and voting process needs to be better understood so we have taken steps to make it more public and to educate people about how it works to preserve fairness and protect Nominations Review Committee members from lobbying and pressure.” However he stated Dugan’s “outrageous assertion that the Grammys are “rigged” is utterly false.” 

In terms of next steps during this turbulent time, Mason stressed that “it is important that the work of the Academy, the activity of our chapters and our progress towards transformation continue. Hopefully we will have some news soon.”