- Deborah Dugan, president and CEO of The Recording Academy, was removed from her position just days before the Grammy Awards.
- Dugan has accused the Academy of unfair treatment and vote rigging for awards.
- The Academy has accused Dugan of creating a toxic work environment.
Usually, the weeks leading up to the Grammys are filled with predictions and parties, but this year, the tone ahead of the 62nd annual show on January 26 is a lot more somber, and controversial, than usual.
On August 1, 2019, Deborah Dugan was named the president and CEO of The Recording Academy, the organization of musicians, producers, recording engineers, and other musical professionals that hold the Grammy Awards. But on January 16, 2020, she was placed on administrative leave. The LA Times, one of the first outlets to report her ouster, also reported that Dugan had accused the Academy of a number of things, including vote rigging.
Here’s what we know about Dugan’s claims, and how it could affect the Grammys going forward.
Who is Deborah Dugan?
Dugan began her career as an attorney, and she later worked at EMI Record Group and Disney Publishing Worldwide. In 2011, she was named the CEO of (RED), a nonprofit cofounded by Bono and Bobby Shriver.
Dugan started her job as the first female president and CEO of The Recording Academy in August 2019. The fact that she was first woman to hold the position was also notable because she was taking over the role from Neil Portnow, who had made some controversial statements about female artists and equal representation in the Academy.
What is Deborah Dugan accusing the Recording Academy of?
As The New York Times reports, shortly before she was placed on leave, Dugan sent a memo to the Academy’s HR department. In that memo, Dugan reportedly detailed complaints about sexism, sexual harassment, Grammy voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, and “conflicts of interest involving members of the academy’s board, executive committee and outside lawyers.” Dugan also revealed that Portnow had been accused by rape by a member of the Academy, a claim that he’s denied.
When it comes to music, Dugan’s memo claimed that Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande were snubbed for 2019 Song of the Year nominations in favor of artists that had prior relationships with members of the Academy’s board, and that there were “voting irregularities” in the jazz category, Vulture reported.
On January 21, Dugan’s legal team, a firm called Wigdor LLP, filed a charge of discrimination and a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to CNN, the suit states:, “The decision to put Ms. Dugan on leave was clearly made in retaliation for her complaint, and came with thinly veiled threats of termination in the event that Ms. Dugan persisted in pursuing claims against the Academy.”
Prior to that lawsuit, The Hollywood Reporter talked to Dugan’s attorney Bryan Freedman, and he said that Dugan now has a 24-hour hired security detail to guard her after she received a “credible” threat, but he failed to elaborate on who the threat came from or what exactly the threat was.
What has The Recording Academy said about Deborah Dugan?
Dugan’s interim replacement at the Academy, Harvey Mason Jr., has published a letter on the Grammy Award website stating that Dugan only made her claims after the Academy received employee complaints against her. Those complaints state that Dugan acted in a hostile manner towards her assistant, and that she created an “abusive and bullying” environment at work. There is now an ongoing investigation against Dugan within the Academy. Mason Jr. also claims that Dugan told the Academy she would drop her complaint only if the Academy paid her “millions of dollars.” Dugan and her legal team have denied all of these claims.
The Recording Academy’s chief awards officer, Bill Freimuth, also released a statement to People in which he denied any claims of vote rigging:
“Spurious allegations claiming members or committees use our process to push forward nominations for artists they have relationships with are categorically false, misleading and wrong. This process is strictly enforced with everyone involved and has no exceptions.”
How will all of this affect the Grammy Awards?
Some recording artists, including Sheryl Crow and Chuck D, have expressed their support for Dugan. The Grammy Awards sponsor Champagne Billecart-Salmon has pulled out of the ceremony in solidarity with the ousted CEO, and other sponsors could follow suit. It’s also not unlikely some celebrities could make a statement on the red carpet or during the ceremony.
The task force that was created in 2018 after Portnow stepped down has released a statement that Variety reposted. The statement declares that the Academy should “implement all of the changes” in the December 2019 report that they delivered, and they expect to hear progress from the Academy when they reconvene in 90 days.
We’ll update this story as more details roll in.
Temi Adebowale is the Editorial Assistant at Men’s Health.