Deborah Dugan Terminated by Recording Academy

Deborah Dugan - Getty - H 2020
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The organization's board of trustees voted to officially end Dugan's employment as president/CEO after placing her on administrative leave on Jan. 16.

The Recording Academy board of trustees officially terminated Deborah Dugan's employment as president/CEO on Monday after placing her on paid administrative leave on Jan. 16.

The decision comes after two independent investigations related to Dugan: one into her allegations against the Recording Academy and another into the accusations made against Dugan by a former assistant.

The Academy also cites the "unwarranted and damaging media campaign that she launched in an attempt, without justification, to derail the Grammy Awards show” and her “consistent management deficiencies and failures” as decision-making factors.

“All of this led the elected leaders of the Academy to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Academy to move on,” a statement from the nonprofit, which puts on the annual Grammy Awards, reads.

According to the statement, the investigations were carried out by individuals with no prior relationship to the Academy and interviews were conducted with 37 total witnesses.

Dugan’s official firing is the latest move in an increasingly ugly battle between the Recording Academy and its former leader, who joined last August.

After being placed on administrative leave on Jan. 16 — just 10 days before the 62nd annual Grammy Awards ceremony — amid allegations of workplace bullying, Dugan filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Jan. 21, calling the Academy a “boys’ club” with “corrupt” Grammy voting procedures. The Academy has loudly refuted those claims, especially those pertaining to Grammy voting.

In the 44-page complaint, Dugan also accused the organization’s general counsel, Joel Katz, of sexual harassment, and brought to light a previous allegation of rape filed against her predecessor, Neil Portnow. Katz and Portnow both deny the allegations.

While the two sides had initially tried to settle their dispute quietly, prior to Dugan’s suspension, the Recording Academy alleges that talks broke down after Dugan asked for $22 million. The Academy countered with a multimillion-dollar offer, two sources told Billboard, but Dugan turned it down.

Last month, Dugan asked the Academy to release her from the arbitration agreement she signed upon taking the job. The Academy denied her request, though it was willing to waive its confidentiality provision, allowing the process to play out publicly.

Dugan and the Academy entered mediation to negotiate a settlement on Feb. 20.

“Although we did participate in some settlement discussions at Ms. Dugan’s request after she stated that it was her desire to leave the Academy and be bought out of her employment contract, we were ultimately compelled to dismiss Ms. Dugan as our President/CEO,” said the Recording Academy executive committee in a letter to members announcing Dugan’s termination. “Not removing Ms. Dugan from the organization at this time would have caused us to compromise our values. We could not reward her with a lucrative settlement and thereby set a precedent that behavior like hers has no consequence. Our members and employees, and the entire music industry, deserve better than that.”

According to the letter, the Academy will begin searching for a new president/CEO “who will leverage the Academy’s diverse membership and rich history and help us transform it to better serve our members today and into the future.” Board chair Harvey Mason Jr. has been serving as interim CEO.

“We realize that we are not perfect, but we want you to know that our attention and energy will remain squarely on you and on the positive changes we are making together,” the letter says in closing. “We will not be distracted from that. We will use this moment to reflect on where we can be better, and pledge to realize a future in which our organization is known for its diversity, transparency, creativity, mutual respect and overall excellence.”

In a statement to Billboard, Dugan’s attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and Michael J. Willemin of Wigdor LLP said: "The Academy’s decision to terminate Ms. Dugan and immediately leak that information to the press further demonstrates that it will stop at nothing to protect and maintain a culture of misogyny, discrimination, sexual harassment, corruption and conflicts of interest. The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, its leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable under the law."

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