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10 Most Shocking Allegations In Deborah Dugan’s Complaint Against the Recording Academy

Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave Jan. 16 following claims of misconduct by a female Recording Academy staffer, accuses the nonprofit, its board members, legal counsel and former CEO of a…

On Tuesday (Jan. 21), deposed Recording Academy president/CEO Deborah Dugan filed an incendiary complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sexual harassment and discrimination against the organization. 

Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave Jan. 16 following claims of misconduct by a female Recording Academy staffer, accuses the nonprofit, its board members, legal counsel and former CEO of a wide spectrum of misdeeds, ranging from rape to sexual harassment, financial impropriety and conflict of interest. 

Below are 10 of the complaint’s most shocking accusations:

• Former president/CEO Neil Portnow (2002-2019), Dugan learned, 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. 

• Upon “information and belief,” Dugan alleges this is why Portnow’s contract was not renewed. Furthermore, before she learned of the alleged accusation, she was asked to hire him as a consultant for $750,000 — a request she denied. (Portnow issued a statement Wednesday morning calling Dugan’s allegations “ludicrous and untrue.”)


• The Recording Academy’s longtime outside general counsel, Greenberg Traurig attorney Joel Katz, allegedly sexually harassed Dugan throughout her tenure with the organization. At their first dinner in May 2019, before she even started the job, Katz allegedly suggested “the two of them ‘spend time together’ and said that ‘traveling to my many homes could be something nice for us to share.'” When dinner ended, she says Katz tried to kiss her. The complaint states, “Ms. Dugan quickly turned away, repulsed.” (Katz “categorically and emphatically” denied Dugan’s version of the evening, in a statement from his attorney.)

• The Grammy voting process is allegedly “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.” 

• The Recording Academy also allegedly “manipulates the nominations process to ensure that certain songs or albums are nominated when the producer of the Grammys [Ken Ehrlich] wants a particular song performed during the show.”

• Legal fees paid to Greenberg Traurig and other law firms, including Ortner’s firm Proskauer Rose, were “plainly exorbitant” and in excess of $15 million over a five-year period. Despite that, Dugan was prohibited from choosing outside counsel “presumably to protect the ‘boys’ club’ and Mr. Katz’s and Mr. [Charles] Ortner’s gravy train,” according to the complaint.


• Katz suggested Dugan name Neiman Marcus — another one of his clients — a Grammy sponsor and, in exchange, said he “could get her many free dresses so that she could ‘look pretty’ at Academy events.” 

• The complaint claims that Megan Clarke, the organization’s former chief information officer, had been harassed by a board member and when she reported it to human resources was “told that she would be terminated if she did not resign.” She allegedly warned Dugan, “If you open your mouth, you’re gone.” 

• The Board attempted to pressure Dugan into signing letters with information that she believed was false, she claims. These letters were to go to the Recording Academy’s accounting firm, Deloitte, in connection with an audit. “Ms. Dugan refused to look the other way and falsely confirm that the Academy was acting above board when she knew that it was actually acting as a “boys’ club” where the conflicts of interest and self-dealing were rampant.”

• Dugan and the Recording Academy almost came to an agreement before she was put on leave. Dugan’s attorney told the Academy of her intent to pursue legal claims in late December and both sides began to negotiate a resolution of her claims. They “had nearly arrived at an agreement in principle. However, the Academy ultimately backed out of the deal. [Board chair, Harvey] Mason then presented a new unfavorable deal to Ms. Dugan, and demanded that she accept within the hour. Ms. Dugan did not accept the Board’s revised settlement proposal and, immediately after the time to accept expired, the Board made the blatantly retaliatory decision to put Ms. Dugan on administrative leave.” 

Ehrlich did not return request for comment. 

The Recording Academy issued the following statement responding to Dugan’s complaint: “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 did not respond to a request for further comment.