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Recording Academy says CEO demanded millions to go quietly

By | Published on Tuesday 21 January 2020

Deborah Dugan

The war of words between the US Recording Academy and its pushed-out CEO Deborah Dugan continues as the big Grammy Weekend gets closer. Dugan is now accused of demanding “millions” – one source says $22 million – to withdraw her allegations of mismanagement at the Grammy Award-owning organisation and quietly exit. But supporters of the Dugan have said those claims are “outrageous” and “completely untrue”.

Quick recap. The Academy last week announced that Dugan had been placed on “administrative leave” following allegations of misconduct. Some sources said tensions had been building for months because, after taking on the CEO role last August, Dugan had not done enough to win over the top team she inherited from her predecessor Neil Portnow.

However, others argued that the tensions really came from resistance within the Academy to Dugan’s plans to shake things up, despite her being appointed to do just that.

It then emerged that – shortly before being placed on administrative leave – Dugan had written to a senior colleague outlining a series of concerns about practices that, she said, led her to conclude that “something was seriously amiss at the Academy”.

That included, according to a report in the New York Times, “voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, ‘exorbitant and unnecessary’ legal bills, and conflicts of interest involving members of the Academy’s board, executive committee and outside lawyers”.

So, if the gossiping is to be believed, Dugan is being pushed out by the Academy partly because no one actually wanted the shake up she was hired to deliver, and partly because of concerns she was going to expose and/or end a bunch of dodgy practices.

But not so, says the chair of the Academy’s board Harvey Mason Jr, who is also filling in as interim CEO. In an open letter he has set out the organisation’s side of the story, while hitting out at the “leaks” and “misinformation” which, he says, are distracting from the upcoming Grammys and the artists they are meant to be celebrating.

Insisting that the Academy is willing to change – especially to address the diversity concerns raised in the latter part of Portnow’s tenure – Mason writes: “In her brief time with the Academy, Ms Dugan and I were in sync about taking a fresh look at everything and making any and all changes necessary to improve the Academy as well as making it more current and relevant to the creative community we serve. I remain committed to that goal”.

As for the charge that the Academy only pushed Dugan out after she provided her list of dodgy practices, Mason counters that Dugan only provided her list of dodgy practices once she knew she was being investigated over allegations of misconduct.

The Academy’s executive committee, he says, became aware in November that complaints were mounting about the “abusive work environment” Dugan had created. Then “in December 2019, a letter was sent from an attorney representing a staff member that included additional detailed and serious allegations of a ‘toxic and intolerable’ and ‘abusive and bullying’ environment created by Ms Dugan towards the staff”.

In response the executive committee launched an investigation into those complains. “After we received the employee complaints against Ms Dugan”, Mason goes on, “she then – for the first time – made allegations against the Academy”. In response, the executive committee launched a separate investigation into the CEO’s own claims of misconduct.

Mason then alleges that “Ms Dugan’s attorney then informed the executive committee that if Ms Dugan was paid millions of dollars, she would ‘withdraw’ her allegations and resign from her role as CEO. Following that communication from Ms Dugan’s attorney, Ms Dugan was placed on administrative leave as we complete both of these ongoing investigations”.

The open letter doesn’t confirm the exact figure Dugan was allegedly requesting to quietly exit the Academy with the supposedly dodgy practices unexposed, but one unidentified Academy rep told Billboard it was a neat $22 million. Although two sources talking to Variety called that claim “outrageous” and “completely untrue”.

Mason uses the rest of his letter to big up the work of the Recording Academy and the trustees who donate their time to the organisation, before urging everyone to focus more on this weekend’s Grammy Awards rather than what’s going on behind the scenes. Although, unfortunately, what happens on stage this weekend is unlikely to be as interesting as the increasingly bold back and forth going on between Dugan and the Academy board.

Concluding his letter, Mason writes: “Don’t buy into headlines generated for personal gain but seek the truth as I am doing. As I mentioned we have initiated two independent investigations to explore all claims and present objective findings. My pledge to you is that I will address the findings of these investigations fairly and honestly and work to make needed repairs and changes while ensuring we have an Academy that honours diversity, inclusion and a safe work environment for all concerned”.