Neil Portnow, Former CEO of Recording Academy, Denies Rape Allegation - Rolling Stone
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Former Grammys CEO Neil Portnow Calls Rape Allegation ‘Ludicrous and Untrue’

‘There was no basis for the allegations, and once again I deny them unequivocally,’ Portnow says. Dugan’s lawyers countered by describing Portnow’s statement as ‘the most recent in a series of defamatory attacks’

Neil Portnow

Neil Portnow, who stepped down as CEO of the Recording Academy in 2019, called an allegation of rape 'ludicrous and untrue' in a statement.

Matt Baron/Shutterstock

Neil Portnow, who stepped down as CEO of the Recording Academy in 2019, called a new allegation of rape “ludicrous and untrue” in a statement on Wednesday. Portnow was accused of raping an unnamed “foreign recording artist” after her show at Carnegie Hall in New York in a document filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Deborah Dugan, the recently ousted CEO of the Recording Academy. 

Dugan’s complaint claimed that members of the Recording Academy board informed her of the accusation against Portnow in May 2019. Though the artist who suffered the alleged rape is not named in the EEOC filing, the document notes that “a psychiatrist has confirmed that the sexual encounter between her and Mr. Portnow was likely not consensual.” In May 2019, Dugan alleges, not everyone on the Recording Academy’s board was aware of the allegation, despite the fact that the board was preparing to vote on a proposal “to hire Mr. Portnow as a consultant for the hefty sum of $750,000.”

In a statement, Portnow said Dugan’s filing “is filled with inaccurate, false, and outrageous and terribly hurtful claims against me.”  

“The allegations of rape are ludicrous and untrue,” Portnow said. “The suggestion that there was [a rape] is disseminating a lie. The baseless complaint about my conduct referenced in the EEOC filing was immediately brought to the attention of the board of directors’ executive committee. An in-depth independent investigation by experienced and highly regarded lawyers was conducted and I was completely exonerated. There was no basis for the allegations, and once again I deny them unequivocally.”

In addition, Portnow denied that he asked Dugan to pay him for consulting services. “Consistent with my pledge to ensure that there would be the appropriate amount of time for the Academy to organize and execute an efficient and transparent transition, I determined far in advance of the Grammy telecast in 2018 that I would not seek a further extension of my contract scheduled to end July 31st, 2019,” the former CEO of the Recording Academy wrote. “I informed the board chair and executive committee of my decision. At no time did I ever demand a $750,000 consulting fee.” Portnow did not address the allegation that members of the board asked Dugan to put him on retainer.

In a subsequent response to Portnow, Dugan’s lawyers, Douglas H. Wigdor and Michael J. Willemin, called the former CEO’s statement “only the most recent in a series of defamatory attacks aimed at Ms. Dugan because she is a women who has shown the courage to stand up for what is right.” “When read carefully, it is clear that Mr. Portnow does not even deny that an allegation of rape was made, although the statement appears wordsmithed to leave the false impression that there was no allegation,” Dugan’s lawyers added. “We and Ms. Dugan stand behind her EEOC charge 100%.”

Dugan’s lawyers continued, “Mr. Portnow denies ‘demanding’ $750,000 for a consultancy. However, Ms. Dugan’s charge does not allege that he made such a demand. What Ms. Dugan knows is that the then-Chair of the Recording Academy’s Board, John Poppo, requested that she hire Mr. Portnow as a consultant and pay him $750,000, before she was ever told about the rape allegation. Moreover, Ms. Dugan does not believe that the full Board had even been told about the proposed consultancy or the rape allegation at that time.”

In addition to Portnow’s response and Dugan’s legal team’s counter, several women on the Executive Committee of the Recording Academy shared their own statement on Wednesday addressing what they refer to as the “firestorm” “that has been unleashed” against their organization.

The statement, signed by Tammy Hurt, Christine Albert, Leslie Ann Jones, and Terry Jones, noted that “the Academy is keenly sensitive to any and all allegations of harassment or abuse, and we support the independent investigations that have been launched.” “We have collectively volunteered many years of service guiding and supporting this organization,” the executives added. “We would not have taken precious time away from our families and careers if we felt that it was a ‘boys’ club.’ We are leaders of this organization and fully committed to transformational change both within the Academy and within our industry at large.”

These three Wednesday statements are the latest in an extended back-and-forth between longtime associates of the Recording Academy and Dugan, who was hired to help reform an organization that has long struggled with issues related to racial and gender diversity. Dugan was accused of misconduct and placed on administrative leave just 10 days before the Grammy Awards. She challenged the Recording Academy this week by accusing it of discrimination and sexual harassment. 

The accusation of rape against Portnow in Dugan’s EEOC complaint was just one of many serious allegations in a document that sought to highlight the “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing … and voting irregularities” that reigned in the Recording Academy, “all made possible by the ‘boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance.”

Neil Portnow’s Statement Regarding Rape Allegation

This document is filled with inaccurate, false and outrageous and terribly hurtful claims against me.  Here is what is true:

The allegations of rape are ludicrous, and untrue. The suggestion that there was is disseminating a lie. The baseless complaint about my conduct referenced in the EEOC filing was immediately brought to the attention of the Board of Directors’ Executive Committee.  An in-depth independent investigation by experienced and highly regarded lawyers was conducted and I was completely exonerated. There was no basis for the allegations and once again I deny them unequivocally.

I fulfilled the terms and responsibilities of my contract during my 17 years as President and ultimately Chief Executive Officer.  Consistent with my pledge to ensure that there would be the appropriate amount of time for the Academy to organize and execute an efficient and transparent transition, I determined far in advance of the GRAMMY telecast in 2018 that I would not seek a further extension of my contract scheduled to end July 31, 2019.  I informed the then Board Chair and Executive Committee of my decision. At no time did I ever demand a $750,000 consulting fee. 

After making the ‘step up’ comment during the 2018 telecast, for which I have apologized and deeply regret the offense caused, and understanding the power of listening and lessons learned, I took action.  I proposed, and the Academy created an independent Task Force to review the state of diversity & inclusion across the organization.  After presenting the Task Force plan and proposed study of the organization to the board, the group was created to implement change. Task Force Chair Tina Tchen made a presentation to the full Board during a May 2019 meeting.

The repetition of these falsehoods against me, and others referenced within the EEOC filing are a diversionary tactic and will not convert them to truth.  I will vigorously defend all false claims made against me in this document.

I would like to wish all the 2020 nominees and those in our creative community well and sincerely hope that they will celebrate their art and accomplishments this weekend at the GRAMMY Awards telecast and during the many GRAMMY Week events ahead.

Deborah Dugan’s Lawyers Response to Portnow’s Statement

Mr. Portnow’s statement is only the most recent in a series of defamatory attacks aimed at Ms. Dugan because she is a women who has shown the courage to stand up for what is right. When read carefully, it is clear that Mr. Portnow does not even deny that an allegation of rape was made, although the statement appears wordsmithed to leave the false impression that there was no allegation. We and Ms. Dugan stand behind her EEOC charge 100%.

Mr. Portnow denies ‘demanding’ $750,000 for a consultancy. However, Ms. Dugan’s charge does not allege that he made such a demand. What Ms. Dugan knows is that the then-Chair of the Recording Academy’s Board, John Poppo, requested that she hire Mr. Portnow as a consultant and pay him $750,000, before she was ever told about the rape allegation. Moreover, Ms. Dugan does not believe that the full Board had even been told about the proposed consultancy or the rape allegation at that time.

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