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The Recording Academy & Sexual Harassment

After the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Recording Academy or the academy) placed then-CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave earlier in January, Dugan hit back on 21 January by filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the complaint, she claimed that the academy discriminated against her because she was a woman in what was a "boys' club."

Dugan, the first female chief executive and president of the Recording Academy—the organization in charge of the Grammy Awards—was suspended from her position only six months after taking on the role. The suspension came after a "senior female member" of the academy alleged misconduct on Dugan's part. 

The EEOC's complaint noted that Dugan reported at least one incident of sexual harassment from the Recording Academy's general counsel to the organization's human resources department in December 2019. Dugan claimed that the man, Joel Katz, repeatedly harassed her, which included suggestive remarks, comments on her appearance, and an attempt to kiss her. Katz, a former member of the Recording Academy's Board of Trustees, denied the allegations.

Along with the harassment, the filing also alleged that Dugan "was paid substantially less than her two male predecessors." One of those predecessors was Neil Portnow, who resigned after making misogynistic comments about female recording artists. Dugan claimed that Portnow's contract with the academy was not renewed because he allegedly raped a female recording artist. Portnow denied the rape allegations. 

"In my efforts to successfully resolve the many outstanding lawsuits facing the Academy that I inherited, one of the claimants characterized her experience of our organization's leadership as ''s a boy's club and they put their financial interest above the mission,'" Dugan wrote in the email to HR. "At the time, I didn't want to believe it, but now after (five) months of being exposed to the behavior and circumstances outlined here, I have come to suspect she is right."

Dugan also detailed other concerns about the Board of Trustees, such as "conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members, and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards."

After Dugan's email to human resources, she notified the organization that she planned to file a lawsuit against the academy, and when the parties could not agree to a settlement, the academy placed Dugan on a leave of absence. The academy's board chairman, Harvey Mason Jr., also claimed in a letter that Dugan tried to extort $22 million from the organization in exchange for not pursuing a lawsuit. The EEOC filing claims that Dugan's suspension was retaliation for her email to HR, and that Dugan's alleged misconduct "was completely false and defamatory," an attempt to damage her reputation. "It was retaliation, pure and simple."

Although concerns about Dugan were made, they were raised by Portnow's executive assistant more than a month before Dugan was suspended. Dugan was accused of "acting in a hostile manner towards an exeutive assistant." According to the filing, the allegations against her "are not of the sort that would ever result in a CEO being put on administrative leave."

In recent years, the Recording Academy seemingly worked to turn itself into a more diverse entity after encountering a growing wave of criticism over failing to recognize both female recording artists and artists of color. The academy established the Recording Academy Diveristy & Inclusion Task Force, which examined the dearth of gender and racial diversity in both the academy and the industry, and published a report on the role of crucial academy roles and committees in December 2019.

The report found that the committees tended to lack diversity and opportunities for minorities. For example, from 2015 to 2018, the national governance committee's composition was roughly 71 percent male and 29 percent female, while the nomination review committees were 74 percent male and 26 percent female. According to Showbiz Cheatsheet, other existing issues included, but were not limited to, harassment, discrimination, and/or assault in work environments; disabled persons were presented with a lack of equal access to resources; underrepresentation or restrictions on women in the indsutry; and pushing out older industry professionals. 

The Task Force said their investigation resulted in including more women on the governance and nomination review committees, increasing female demographics up to at least 48 percent. The report also provided other solutions that could improve diversity in the academy.

#MeToo, #TimesUp, and #OscarsSoWhite have all contributed to the most recent growing wave of discontentment with discrimination and harassment in the entertainment industry. Along with keeping tabs on various liability, discrimination, and harassment issues addressed by the courts in Legal Report, Security Management also offers features on protecting brand reputation and dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and assault, like How to Investigate #MeToo.