Earlier this week, an article in Forbes asked, “When will the music industry have its #MeToo moment?” Indeed it has felt that, despite several accusations of sexual harassment, rape, or misconduct within the music world as detailed in the piece, the industry on the whole has so far avoided the growing reckoning now making its way through film and television. But this week, days before the Grammy Awards ceremony on Jan. 26, the music industry has been hit with a controversy too big to ignore. Here’s everything you need to know about CEO Deborah Dugan and the Grammys harassment scandal.
In August 2019, Dugan was named the first-ever female President and CEO of the Recording Academy: a non-profit organization that represents musicians and organizes the Grammys. Dugan took over the job from former President Neil Portnow, who received pressure to resign after “responding to criticism that the Academy’s voting was sexist and lacked female representation, [by] plac[ing] the responsibility on female artists, whom he advised to ‘step up’ in order to be recognized,” New York Magazine reported.
But by January 16, Dugan was placed on an administrative leave a mere 10 days before the 2020 Grammy Awards ceremony. As The New York Times reported late last week, Dugan was placed on leave “in light of concerns raised to the Recording Academy board of trustees, including a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team.” The allegation was reportedly filed by her assistant — who had previously served as Portnow’s executive assistant — and claimed that Dugan utilized “a bullying management style…which contributed to the assistant taking a leave of absence.”
The Recording Academy then issued a statement to CNN saying, “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.”
However, the Times’ account also included Dugan’s assertion that she was placed on leave three weeks after delivering a scathing memo to the Recording Academy’s human resources department was far from a coincidence. Her memo detailed what she considered to be financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest, voting irregularities, and concerns about the inner workings of the organization. All of which led her to believe that, “something was seriously amiss at the Recording Academy.” (Bustle reached out to the Recording Academy regarding Dugan’s allegations and has not received a response at this time.)
Dugan’s memo also featured some serious accusations. According to New York, Dugan claimed she experienced sexual harassment at the hands of Joel Katz, the Academy’s general legal counsel, during a dinner. (Katz has categorically denied the allegations.) The memo also referenced an outstanding allegation of rape against Portnow made by a female recording artist, and reported sexist treatment of women in the Academy. Portnow has denied the allegations, calling them “ludicrous and untrue.” Additionally, Dugan brought up alleged vote rigging.
New York also reported that Dugan’s legal team then filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the Recording Academy. The discrimination complaint argues that she was put on leave because of the memo she brought to HR. Her complaint also claimed that Recording Academy utilized, “tactics reminiscent of those deployed by individuals defending Harvey Weinstein.”
On Thursday morning, Dugan and her lawyer appeared on Good Morning America to defend herself against the accusations of abuse and reiterate that vote rigging is indeed plaguing the Grammy Awards.
In the interview on GMA, Dugan asserted that Katz was inappropriate with her. “Starting with calling me ‘babe,’ saying how attractive I was, how pretty I was. The evening went on to a kiss, trying to kiss me. All the way through I realized that I was being tested to how much I would acquiesce,” she says. Katz has vehemently denies the allegations.
Dugan also appeared on NBC Nightly News on Thursday evening and went into further details with reporter Kate Snow. “I was so shocked when I got there of the level of sexism and corruption that I found at the Recording Academy,” she says. “There’s a layer of corruption, self-dealing and sexism that must go.”
And according to an anonymous Recording Academy staffer, Dugan had attempted to combat the sexism head on. The staffer told The Hollywood Reporter that, “She was a huge source of discomfort for everyone there because she believed she was coming to be an agent of change, but they don’t really want change at all. They had entrenched ways of doing business and anything she tried to change was met with, ‘That’s not the how we do it.'”
And this is just the beginning. According to The New York Post, Dugan’s attorney has said that more details will be “exposed” at a later date. “What has been reported [in the press] is not nearly the story that needs to be told,” he said in a statement. “When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you ‘step up’ at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit.”
And regardless of the still-unfolding drama, the show will go on. The Grammy Awards air Sunday, Jan. 26 on CBS — and despite all that has happened, Dugan will still be tuning in.
“I worked very hard on the show,” she told GMA. “I love the artists that are going to be performing and I love all of those that are nominated that don’t get the honor of being on the show.”
Will Dugan’s ouster and accusations lead to the music industry’s own reckoning against decades of sexism, racism, misogyny, and an old boys club attitude? Time will only tell, but at the Grammys, it sounds like time’s up.