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Activist fails to become Warner Music board member in bid to uncover past sexual misconduct at label

By | Published on Wednesday 4 January 2023

Dorothy Carvello

Music industry activist and former Atlantic Records exec Dorothy Carvello has failed in her bid to become a board member of the Atlantic-owning Warner Music Group. The music company says that she failed to meet certain criteria, set out in its bylaws, which must be met in order for someone to be put forward to a shareholder vote on board membership.

If she had been successful, Carvello planned to use her board position to attempt to force the major music company to reveal information about past sexual misconduct within the business.

Carvello nominated herself for a seat on the WMG board last month, following a change to rules made by the US Securities & Exchange Commission last year, which makes it easier for minority shareholders in American companies to put themselves forward to join boards.

Warner said in a statement that “we value the input of all shareholders” but added that “anyone desiring to nominate director candidates must satisfy the standard requirements of WMG’s bylaws, including being a registered shareholder”.

While Carvello is a shareholder in the Warner Music Group, she bought her shares through online brokerage Robinhood, and it is that company that is named on those shares rather than her. This seems like something of a technicality, though Warner says that it did give her more time to resolve this and other issues, but that she failed to do so in time.

Had she been successful, Carvello would still have had to face a vote on her bid at the music company’s next shareholder meeting. Whether she would have received enough votes is far from certain, not least because of the amount of shares owned by Len Blavatnik, who is unlikely to support her, according to the Financial Times.

“While this is an unfortunate attempt by the corporation to block an important mission, she will continue to seek to have her name placed on the ballot next year”, a spokesperson for Carvello tells Billboard in a statement.

Carvello has been candid for some time about her experiences working in the record industry, describing them in detail in her memoir ‘Anything For A Hit’, which is now being adapted into a docuseries. Last year she launched the Face The Music Now Foundation, an organisation that supports survivors of sexual harassment and abuse within the music industry.

As well as Warner, she also owns shares in Sony Music and Universal Music, with a plan to rally other shareholders to pressure the music firms to cancel any NDAs currently in force over current or former employees that relate to harassment. And in September, as a shareholder in Warner Music, she asked it to share any records it has on sexual misconduct allegations – and other claims of bad practice – that have been made within the company.

Most recently, in December, she launched a lawsuit against Atlantic Records, claiming that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by senior management at the label when she worked there from 1987 to 1990, including by the label’s co-founder Ahmet Ertegun.

This followed a similar lawsuit filed by talent scout and artist manager Jan Roeg against Atlantic and the Ertegun estate in relation to incidents that allegedly occurred when she worked for and with the Warner label in the 1980s.

Both lawsuits were made possible by a new law in New York state that allows alleged victims of sexual assault whose claims were previously barred by the statute of limitations to file new legal proceedings at any point over the next year. Multiple lawsuits targeting key record industry figures and the companies they worked for are expected as a result of the new law.

In response to both lawsuits, Warner noted that the alleged assaults dated back several decades, and that “many key individuals are deceased or into their 80s and 90s”.

It added: “To ensure a safe, equitable, and inclusive working environment, we have a comprehensive code of conduct, and mandatory workplace training, to which all of our employees must adhere. We regularly evaluate how we can evolve our policies to ensure our work environment is free from discrimination and harassment”.

While Carvello may not be set to join the Warner Music board this year, it seems that she will continue with other efforts to highlight allegations made against current and past record label employees, by herself and others.

Those efforts continue to draw media attention, which may mean that Warner and the other majors are ultimately forced to act in relation to past harassment and abuse at some point in the future.