Grammy Awards in Chaos After CEO Shakeup, Discrimination Complaint, Rape Claim

Grammy Awards Stage (Credit:

Just days after she was ousted amid a misconduct investigation, Recording Academy President/CEO Deborah Dugan filed a bombshell discrimination complaint Tuesday alleging she was sexually harassed and pushed out in “retaliation” for raising concerns about the “boys’ club” atmosphere in the organization that hands out Grammy awards.

On Thursday, Jan. 16, Dugan was placed on administrative leave. Five days later, she filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The 46-page complaint was posted online by Slate, and claims Dugan was pushed out in retaliation for a December email she sent to an academy human resources manager alleging “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the ‘boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance at the academy.”

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Deborah Dugan (Credit: Shutterstock)
Deborah Dugan (Credit: Shutterstock)

On Aug. 1, 2019, Dugan became the first female president of the Recording Academy. She replaced longtime boss Neil Portnow, who stepped down after facing backlash for saying female artists should “step up” if they want to win more awards after the 2018 Grammys.

Dugan’s complaint claims the “real reason” Portnow was fired was for allegedly raping an unnamed female recording artist. In a statement Wednesday, Portnow called Dugan’s rape claim “ludicrous and untrue.”

Dugan’s complaint lays out the following details:

-In her Dec. 22 email to HR, Dugan alleged the academy’s general counsel sexually harassed her, by calling her “baby” several times and trying kiss her at the end of a business dinner.

-Dugan’s complaint says the female employee behind the misconduct allegation against her is the former executive assistant to Portnow.

-Dugan claims the academy’s Board of Trustees encouraged her to bring Portnow back as a consultant for $750,000 a year.

-The complaint alleges that Portnow raped a female recording artist, “which was, upon information and belief, the real reason his contract was not renewed.”

-Dugan claimed she was “paid substantially less than her two male predecessors.”

-The complaint also alleges voting corruption and it repeats a frequent assertion that African Americans rarely win the most prestigious Grammys, stating: “Notably, in the entire history of the Grammys, only 10 Black artists have won Album of the Year and it was not until 2004 when the first rap album, Outkast’s SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below, won Album of the Year.”

Dugan has hired a team of attorneys, including Douglas Wigdor, who represents some of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers. On Tuesday, Wigdor announced on Twitter that the EEOC complaint had been filed.

The Recording Academy responded to the complaint with a statement of its own.

“It is curious that Ms. Dugan never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally by a female employee who alleged Ms. Dugan had created a ‘toxic and intolerable’ work environment and engaged in ‘abusive and bullying conduct’. When Ms. Dugan did raise her ‘concerns’ to HR, she specifically instructed HR ‘not to take any action’ in response,” the academy said.

The statement goes on to claim Dugan tried to shake down the academy for millions of dollars in exchange for leaving the organization quietly:  “Nonetheless, we immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms. Dugan’s potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations. Both of these investigations remain ongoing. 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.”

The back-and-forth comes just days before the Grammy Awards, which take place on Sunday, January 26 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.