Grammy CEO Fired by Recording Academy - Rolling Stone
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Recording Academy Officially Fires Grammy CEO Deborah Dugan

Board votes to terminate Dugan’s employment and search for replacement in open letter

deborah dugan

Rozette Rago for Rolling Stone

The Executive Committee of The Recording Academy — the organization that controls the Grammy Awards — issued a letter to members on Monday informing them of the termination of President/CEO Deborah Dugan’s employment.

Dugan was placed on administrative leave 10 days before the January 26th Grammys for allegations of misconduct. She then lobbied her own accusations against the Academy, with an eventual Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint including claims of millions of dollars being unnecessarily funneled to certain law firms, as well as attempts to greenlight a $750k consultancy fee for predecessor Neil Portnow, who was fired after making ill-advised comments about women in music.  She also accused mega-powerful music attorney Joel Katz of sexual harassment and claimed that the Grammy voting process was “rigged,” among other accusations. (Katz and Portnow both denied the claims.)

According to the memo, the Board of Trustees has voted in favor of her termination as a result of “two exhaustive, costly investigations relating to Ms. Dugan and the allegations made against her and by her.”

The Recording Academy claims that, through these investigations — which were carried out by what they claim are “experienced individuals with no prior relationship to the Academy” — these individuals interviewed 37 witnesses and reviewed numerous relevant documents and emails. The identities of these witnesses were not revealed, nor were their affiliations to Dugan and the case. The letter goes on to say, “The investigators were not given any directives about what specifically to investigate or what conclusions, if any they were expected to reach,” even though this battle has been highly publicized in recent weeks.

After her back-and-forth proceedings with the Academy were publicized, Dugan asked to be released from her arbitration clause. The next week, the Academy proposed keeping arbitration but waiving the confidentiality provision that could potentially bring more public transparency to the arbitration itself. Instead, a sole arbitrator was supposed to launch an investigation. Dugan criticized this decision, arguing that the public and the music industry have a right to full transparency. She also accused the Academy of conflicts of interest, claiming that her investigator was chosen by one of the law firms mentioned in her EEOC complaint, Proskauer Rose. In addition, the attorney who hired said investigator represented the Academy against Dugan after she sent a December 22nd, 2019 email that outlined the complaints meant to be at the center of the investigation, she claimed.

In the newly released letter, the Academy notes that they did participate in “some settlement discussions at Ms. Dugan’s request after she stated that it was her desire to leave the Academy and be bought out of her employment contract,” but that they were “ultimately compelled to dismiss Ms. Dugan as our President/CEO.” The organization goes on to say that not removing her at this time would cause them to “compromise [their] values.”

“We could not reward her with a lucrative settlement and thereby set a precedent that behavior like hers has no consequence,” they added.

It’s unclear what Dugan’s next steps will be following the Academy’s dismissal or if settlement talks are now completely off the table. (Responses to those questions to Dugan’s attorney were not immediately returned.)

The Academy also cites Dugan’s “consistent management deficiencies and failures, and other factors” as reasons for termination, although they do not go into specific detail. They do, however, argue that “this is not what [they] wanted or expected when [they] hired Ms. Dugan last year… Though she made some valuable contributions, Ms. Dugan failed to perform her job duties as promised and expected.” In the past, the Academy has said that Dugan was hired to promote positive change in connection with their diversification.

“We will initiate a search for a new leader who will leverage the Academy’s diverse membership and rich history and help us transform it to better serve our members today and into the future,” Recording Academy Chair and Interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr., said in a statement. “As we structure this new search, we will look carefully to see where the last one led us astray and make any necessary changes going forward. Our focus now will be on the transformation agenda we initiated prior to hiring Ms. Dugan, and on working to improve the Academy. Much of this work has been happening but much of it is yet to come. We realize that we are not perfect, and we will use this moment to reflect on where we can be better, and pledge to realize a future in which our organization is known for its diversity, transparency, creativity, mutual respect, and overall excellence.”

“It was not one thing that led to this action, but rather the large number of incidents that demonstrated poor judgment, both before and after Ms. Dugan went on administrative leave,” Christine Albert, Chair Emeritus of the National Board of Trustees at The Recording Academy, shared. “There was just no way she could continue to serve this organization.”

“I was recruited and hired by the Recording Academy to make positive change; unfortunately, I was not able to do that as its CEO,” Dugan said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “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.'”

“The Academy’s decision to terminate Ms. Dugan and immediately leak that information to the press further demonstrates that it will stop at nothing to protect and maintain a culture of misogyny, discrimination, sexual harassment, corruption and conflicts of interest,” Dugan’s attorneys, Douglas Wigdor and Michael Willemin, added in a statement. “The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, its leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable under the law.”

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