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Ousted Grammy CEO Deborah Dugan Escalates War Against Recording Academy

“I am calling upon the Academy to voluntarily release me from the arbitration agreement,” Dugan says in open letter to Recording Academy’s Executive Committee

Ousted Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan is urging the organization to drop her arbitration clause and allow "transparency and accountability."

Rozette Rago for Rolling Stone

Ousted Grammys president and CEO Deborah Dugan sent an open letter to the Recording Academy’s Executive Committee, asking them to release her from her arbitration clause and ensure the investigation “call[s] for transparency and accountability.”

The letter follows an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint Dugan filed after she was put on administrative leave just over a week before the 62nd Grammy Awards. She claimed the Recording Academy was a “boys’ club” rife with self-dealing, conflicts of interest, voter manipulation and financial impropriety.

She also claimed that the Recording Academy’s outside counsel, Joel Katz, had sexually harassed her, and that former CEO Neil Portnow had been accused of raping a foreign recording artist and Academy member. Both men have denied these allegations, while the Recording Academy has maintained that its operations are on the level, and that Dugan only filed her complaint after an executive assistant (who previously worked for Portnow) accused her of being an abusive boss.

But due to an agreement Dugan signed when she accepted the CEO job, she is required to arbitrate any disputes between herself and the Academy. Dugan’s letter claims that arbitration is “purportedly a quasi-judicial process” where a judge and jury are dispensed with in favor of a sole “arbitrator.” She notes the many concerns surrounding arbitration, especially in cases that involve sexual harassment: the process is largely confidential and it tends to favor businesses and organizations, who often retain and pay the person serving as the arbitrator.

In asking for the Academy’s Executive Committee to voluntarily release her from her arbitration agreement, Dugan wrote, “While I understand that it might be in your interest to keep the evidence and proceedings behind closed doors, the public and the [music] industry have a right to know what is going on in the Academy, which is a ‘public’ not-for-profit organization.”

In a statement, the Recording Academy refuted Dugan’s assertions. “Ms. Dugan continues to attempt to manage public perceptions through misinformation. The Recording Academy is weighing all of the available information and considering our options as it relates to the next steps with Ms. Dugan. We remain extremely disappointed in how she is choosing to handle the situation and strongly disagree with many of her claims. At this point, we are focused on the future and are excited about continuing the agenda of change and progress.”

Additionally, Dugan’s letter states that doing away with her arbitration clause is necessary because, while the Academy has asked her to partake in an investigation, she claims the investigator that’s been hired is mired in conflicts of interest. The unnamed investigator was reportedly retained by the law firm Proskauer Rose, whose partner Chuck Ortner was named in Dugan’s EEOC complaint; Ortner serves as the National Legal Counsel to the Academy and allegedly wields significant influence over the organization, while both he and Proskauer Rose have reportedly received hefty retainer fees from the Academy over the years. Moreso, Dugan claims that the Proskauer attorney who hired the investigator, Anthony Oncidi, “represented the Academy against me after I sent my December 22, 2019 email in which I outlined the complaints that are supposedly the subject of this investigation.” (A rep for Proskauer Rose did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)

Dugan goes on to claim that while she has been asked to participate in this investigation, the investigator has denied her and her legal team access to any evidence and documents, but the Academy — which is paying the investigator — will have access to everything. She claims the Academy “will be able to conceal evidence from the public and the music industry… [and] leak or otherwise disseminate whatever information it believes will harm me, and I will have no recourse.”

Dugan ended her letter by calling for either a mutually agreed-upon, independent investigator, or for the Academy to allow her to hire her own investigator to work jointly with theirs “and have full access to all documents, witnesses and other evidence.”

“I want nothing more than to participate in a complete, thorough and truly independent investigation,” Dugan said. “In fact, through my attorneys, I specifically called for such an investigation. I cannot, in good conscience, participate in an investigate rife with conflicts of interest and obvious partiality.”

Deborah Dugan’s Letter to the Recording Academy’s Executive Committee