Deborah Dugan vs. The Grammys: Sexual Harassment and Corruption Behind the Scenes

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Only days ago, the board of the Recording Academy, the company behind the Grammy Awards, announced the dismissal of Deborah Dugan, their new CEO, just days before the annual ceremony.

The argument for putting Dugan on “administrative leave” was “a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team,” as quoted by Rolling Stone.

The magazine accessed an internal company memo in which interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr. explained to the academy members that “the Grammy Awards and all related activities will go forward as planned,” without giving further details of what happened.

But a New York Times report shed light on the situation, assuring that a person close to the dispute said: “Ms. Dugan had been removed after a complaint was filed by the assistant to her predecessor, Neil Portnow, who had also worked temporarily for Ms. Dugan. The assistant accused Ms. Dugan of a bullying management style, the person said, which contributed to the assistant taking a leave of absence.”

However, as the Times adds, Dugan’s dismissal happened curiously “less than three weeks after she sent a memo to the Academy’s head of human resources that detailed her concerns about the governance and practices of the organization.”

In an interview with Rolling Stone after her dismissal was made public, Dugan went into the details.

Between sexual harassment and administrative punishment for questioning the way things are done at higher levels, she resolved to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, whose 46-page document is a window into the “behind the scenes” of one of the country’s most important events and symbols.

Dugan accuses the Academy’s general counsel, Joel Katz, of sexual harassment during a private dinner in May 2019, where “he referred to her as ‘baby’ and commented on her appearance multiple times throughout the dinner,” according to the magazine. “Katz allegedly told Dugan he was ‘very, very rich’ and said the two should spend time together. He allegedly told Dugan that ‘traveling to my many homes could be something nice for us to share.’”

The lawsuit also exposes how former Grammys CEO Neil Portnow had allegedly abused “a foreign recording artist,” something the board would have kept silent even though a formal complaint had taken place.

Between “secret committees” and corruption in the voting process, where board members representing artists move the nominations in their favor, Dugan seems to give us an answer to all of us who have questioned a thousand times the final results in multiple editions of the Grammy Awards.

In an interview with Good Morning America on Thursday, Dugan spoke for the first time in public about the issue and described the Grammys as a “boys club,” discussing the sexual harassment she had suffered and how the company really works.

“The system should be transparent and there are incidents of conflict of interest that taint the results,” Dugan said. “I couldn’t say more positive things about all of the nominations and everybody that performs, and, oh my God, I hate that I’m in this situation because I’d much rather be talking about the artists.”

However, the Grammys haven’t just been about artists anymore for a long time.

As the years go by, the chairs have been emptied at the once most important event in music, while the artists realize that the mediatized and monopolized night has become increasingly focused on the red carpet, leaving aside what really matters.

The Grammys have often been criticized like many other awards ceremonies for their lack of inclusiveness, where people of color rarely win an Album of the Year, and for taking women for granted, which cost Portnow his spot after saying that “women need to step up,” while awards results show that “only 9.3 percent of the nominees in five of the most prestigious Grammy categories from 2013 to 2018 were women,” explains The Atlantic.

Perhaps Dugan is not so far from describing something that has always been under our noses: the Academy’s supposedly voting members do indeed appear to be a white men’s club.