Recording Academy Settles With Ousted President-CEO Deborah Dugan
25th June 2021

The Recording Academy and former president-CEO Deborah Dugan have reached a settlement in the arbitration surrounding her ouster, which took place just 10 days before the 2020 Grammys.

The two parties issued a joint statement Thursday night that says simply: “The Recording Academy and Deborah Dugan have agreed to resolve their differences and to keep the terms of their agreement private.”

Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave from her post in January of last year after vague accusations of “misconduct” toward an employee sources say was her former assistant, was officially terminated last March. Harvey Mason jr., head of the Academy’s board of trustees, took her place on an interim basis and has remained in the role, although he stresses that the role is not permanent.

Despite a series of fiery statements and allegations about Dugan’s alleged conduct in the role, the Academy consistently has failed to specify what those “deficiencies and failures” were. Multiple sources tell Variety that while Dugan’s top-down management style was an awkward fit with the Academy’s slow, consensus-building, more traditionally non-profit processes, she was on the verge of making significant changes at the time of her termination, just days before her first Grammy Awards ceremony.

Dugan fiercely disputed the Academy’s version of events in a blockbuster legal complaint and several statements, which accused the organization of multiple instances of misconduct, including improprieties in the Grammy voting procedure, “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members… and a ‘boys’ club’ mentality”; “exorbitant” legal fees paid to outside law firms; and that attorney Joel Katz, an Academy executive affiliated with one of those law firms, attempted to “woo” and kiss her. Her complaint also brought forth an accusation that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, raped an unnamed female artist; Portnow later admitted the accusation but said he was exonerated after a third-party investigation.

Sources have told Variety that Dugan’s ouster was more of a “coup” by executives and officers at the Academy, who felt threatened by her agenda for change in the organization and disapproved of her management style. Dugan served in the role for just over five months.

Her complaint also stated that in January her attorneys and the Academy had nearly negotiated a peaceful exit, but disagreed over a severance amount — which sources say was initially $8 million, in line with her employment contract, but was abruptly withdrawn and replaced with a much smaller offer by the Academy. She was placed on administrative leave shortly afterward.

The Academy’s letter fails to specify the alleged misconduct that resulted in Dugan’s termination, or to respond to many of her allegations. Contacted by Variety, reps for the Academy declined to provide those and other further details.

A March 2020 statement from Dugan read: “I was recruited and hired by the Recording Academy to make positive change; unfortunately, I was not able to do that as its CEO.  While I am disappointed by this latest development, I am not surprised given the Academy’s pattern of dealing with whistleblowers.  Is anyone surprised that its purported investigations did not include interviewing me or addressing the greater claims of conflicts of interest and voting irregularities?  So, instead of trying to reform the corrupt institution from within, I will continue to work to hold accountable those who continue to self-deal, taint the Grammy voting process and discriminate against women and people of color.  Artists deserve better.  To me, this is the real meaning of ‘stepping up.’”

In a statement, the Academy said in part: “Ms. Dugan’s consistent management deficiencies and failures, and other factors. All of this led the elected leaders of the Academy to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Academy to move on.”

Dugan’s complaint and multiple sources say the Academy’s accusation of “misconduct” amounts to alleged verbal abuse against an unnamed female executive who the complaint and sources identify as Claudine Little, Portnow’s and Dugan’s former assistant, who went on paid leave in the fall of 2019, while Dugan was still in office.

 

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