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The Grammys CEO was fired for speaking out against sexual harassment. Now she's fighting back

In August, the Recording Academy hired their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan. Ten days before the Grammys, Dugan was placed on administrative leave for misconduct allegations after a female employee said Dugan was "abusive" and created a "toxic and intolerable" work environment. However, Dugan says she was actually removed from her position for complaining to human resources about sexual harassment, pay disparities, and conflicts of interest in the award show's nomination process.

Just five days before the Grammys, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and her claims are many. Dugan says she was paid less than former CEO Neil Portnow. In 2018, Portnow received criticism for saying women need to "step up" when only two female acts won Grammys. Portnow decided to not renew his contract shortly after. Dugan says she was also asked to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, which she refused to do.


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Dugan also says that the award show is rife with conflicts of interest, especially when it comes to voting. "[T]he Board is permitted to simply add in artists for nominations who did not even make the initial 20-artist list. Naturally, the members of the Board and the secret committees chose artists with whom they have personal or business relationships. This year, 30 artists that were not selected by the membership were added to the possible nomination list," Dugan's complaint says.

In December 2019, a task force found that "biases affecting women, people of color and LGBTQ creators in the music business are deeply ingrained" in the Recording Academy and between "2012 and the present, the Board has been approximately 68% male and 69% Caucasian." In 2018, a report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California found that only 9% of the 899 people nominated for Grammy Awards between 2012 and 2018 were women.

The Academy feels otherwise, issuing a statement saying Dugan "never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally." The statement also says, "When Ms. Dugan did raise her 'concerns' to HR, she specifically instructed HR 'not to take any action' in response."

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Dugan sees the Academy's handling of the situation as "reminiscent of those deployed by individuals defending Harvey Weinstein," Dugan's attorneys said in a statement. "As we allege, the attempt by the Recording Academy to impugn the character of Deborah Dugan is a transparent effort to shift the focus away from its own unlawful activity. This blatant form of retaliation in corporate America is all too common, even post #MeToo."

The situation is still being duked out, however if Dugan's allegations are correct, it wouldn't be the first time a woman has been ousted and labeled "difficult" for speaking up. And unfortunately, it's probably not going to be the last.

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