Top executives at Sony Music Entertainment were told of former Sony Australia CEO Denis Handlin’s abusive behavior over 20 years before Handlin was fired, according to a new report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The documentary from the broadcasting corporation’s investigative program Four Corners is just the latest report detailing decades of alleged abuse Sony workers endured while working for Handlin, echoing previous pieces from other outlets including The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald. Handlin was fired in June, months after Sony opened an investigation into Australia’s workplace culture. Four other Sony executives were also placed on leave following the investigation.
Four Corners spoke with over 100 current and former Sony Australia employees leading up to the documentary, including several former executives who left the company over Handlin’s alleged behavior.
Handlin was widely regarded as the most powerful executive in the Australian music industry before his ouster, regarded for his ability to promote records. In the workplace, however, he fostered a culture of fear, as multiple reports highlight, where abuse, sexual misconduct and discrimination were common. In one example, the program unearthed a video of Handlin dressed up as Hitler while rapping about the company’s competitive nature.
Four Corners also identified seven cases over a six-year period before 2013 where pregnant women were fired and given cash settlements. Former Sony manager Matthew McQuade told Four Corners of an instance where Handlin made sexual comments about a new female hire. Cathie Hannan, who worked for Handlin in the late Seventies, told Four Corners that Handlin demanded she resign after she refused to flash her breasts as part of a promotion for a Cheap Trick song.
As the new report also states — and the Guardian first reported in June — Sony Music’s corporate team in the U.S. received multiple complaints on Handlin from Sony Australia in the Nineties. Greg Lockhart, Sony Australia’s head of human resources at the time, worked closely with Handlin and for years and played a role in cleaning up following Handlin’s alleged abuses. He told Four Corners he’d reported Handlin multiple times throughout the 1990s, but the company didn’t take any action until 1998. By then, Lockhart, along with former Sony Australia finance head Alan Terrey and two other executives, were asked to submit a report to Sony corporate, detailing workplace issues such as Handlin being “abusive daily,” along with his “frequent mad rages of screaming and bullying” and his inability to “treat women as equals.”
Handlin was initially suspended, and Sony flew 10 Australian executives to its New York corporate office for interviews as part of the company’s internal investigation. But three months later, Sony reinstated Handlin, and his power went untouched for another 23 years. Nine of the 10 executives who were interviewed would leave the company over the next several years, according to the report.
The company has underwent multiple top executive shifts since the initial investigation in the Nineties, and Sony says its current leadership hadn’t received any complaints on the matter until this year. “We take all allegations of bullying, harassment and other inappropriate behavior from our employees very seriously and investigate them vigorously,” Sony Music Entertainment said in a statement. “Only recently did claims surface and we are examining them expeditiously. We are not in a position to comment further on allegations concerning matters which occurred over 20 years ago particularly given that the persons involved at that time are no longer at the company. To the extent these matters have been raised, Sony Music has been reviewing them.”
At the center of the reporting behind Australia’s ongoing reckoning is advocacy group Beneath the Glass Ceiling. For over a year, the group has served as an anonymous community where victims in the Australian music industry could freely tell their stories of sexual harassment and abusive workplace environments, and the group helped connect those who were interested with journalists, lawyers, support groups and other resources. The group is growing quickly with nearly 15,000 instagram followers, and the page is expanding its scope. As of last week, the page announced it was going global and is calling for anyone from the global music industry to begin sharing their stories.
While the Australian music industry has held active investigations into workplace violations, the music industry overall has mostly avoided the reckoning the broader entertainment has faced in regard to longstanding issues of workplace abuse and sexual misconduct. But advocates are looking to shift that. In the U.S., Dorothy Carvello, who chronicled her own experience of sexual harassment while serving as Atlantic’s first female A&R representative in her book Anything For a Hit, told Billboard last week she wants to hold major music companies accountable by becoming an activist shareholder. As an activist shareholder with stakes in UMG, Sony and WMG, her hope is to eventually bring forward a proposal to terminate all harassment-related non-disclosure agreements the companies may have against current or former employees or clients.