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US Recording Academy reaches settlement with its former CEO

By | Published on Friday 25 June 2021

Deborah Dugan

So this is no fun at all. “The Recording Academy and Deborah Dugan have agreed to resolve their differences and to keep the terms of their agreement private”, the US Recording Academy and its former CEO announced last night.

Dugan, you may remember, was hired by the Academy in late 2019 with a brief to shake things up at the organisation and its annual Grammy Awards, in particular dealing with the diversity issues that had dogged the latter part of her predecessor Neil Portnow’s tenure.

Then, just before the 2020 Grammys show, Dugan was put on administrative leave by the Academy’s board. They said that that move had followed a complaint of bullying by a staff member against Dugan. But she said that she was being axed because, it turns out, the Recording Academy only wanted to look like it was shaking things up. No actual shaking up was desired.

Dugan didn’t stop there though. She then filed an explosive legal document with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in LA. In it she set out a long list of allegations against the Academy, its board, its committees and its legal advisors, who were variously accused of corruption, misogyny, financial self-serving, sexual harassment and vote fixing.

A flurry of statements followed from the Recording Academy and its Chair – and now CEO – Harvey Mason Jr denying all of those allegations, and subsequently bragging about just how much shaking up was going on at the organisation, proving that its ousted CEO was talking nonsense.

The Academy successfully pushed its legal dispute with Dugan to arbitration rather than a court of law. Although earlier this month a new dispute erupted over whether or not the planned arbitration hearings would take place in public.

Dugan argued that Mason had assured her in writing that they would. But the Academy’s legal reps countered that Mason had only ever committed to make the findings of the arbitration process public.

Actually allowing the two sides’ arguments and grievances be aired in the public domain would presumably have created some significant PR headaches for the Academy, whatever conclusion the arbitrators ultimately reached.

But now, it seems, none of those arguments or grievances will be heard. Which is a possibly a shame, given that many reckoned that – while Dugan may have had a very different management style to what had gone before at the Academy, resulting in tensions between her and the organisation’s employees and officers – at least some of her criticisms were justified and many of her proposals were sound.

That said, some have pointed out that Mason himself had an alright working relationship with Dugan during her short stint at the Academy, and that he has actually proceeded with many of the key reforms and programmes she had proposed in his role as interim and now actual CEO. So maybe all’s well that ends well. Though a fiery arbitration hearing would have been fun to watch.