Deborah Dugan Fired By Recording Academy After Investigations; Her Lawyers Say Organization “Will Be Held Accountable”

UPDATED with Dugan statement: Grammy organization the Recording Academy said in a letter to members Monday that it has fired Deborah Dugan, the group’s president and CEO who has been on administrative leave since January, a move that has launched a series of contentious accusations on both sides.

The Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees voted to terminate Dugan’s employment “with full support of the Executive Committee,” it said today in the letter, which noted the move came after two “exhaustive, costly independent investigations relating to Ms. Dugan and the allegations made against her and by her.” (Read the letter in full below.)

Dugan was hired in May as the first female head of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, but was put on leave just ahead of the 62nd annual Grammy Awards amid an “investigation” into alleged misconduct involving a female staffer. She denied the claims, and later filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, saying she was sexually harassed by Joel Katz, the Academy’s general counsel, who also denied the claims.

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Dugan’s complaint also alleged that she witnessed “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members, and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the ‘boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance at the Academy.”

The Academy denied the accusations, with Recording Academy chair and interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr later saying Dugan demanded “millions of dollars” to withdraw complaints she made about the organization and resign.

“After weighing all of the evidence from two independent investigations, the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy voted to terminate Ms. Dugan from her role as President/CEO,” Mason Jr said in a statement today, adding that as part of its “search for a new leader .. “we will look carefully to see where the last one led us astray and make any necessary changes going forward.”

Dugan appeared on several morning shows ahead of the Grammys telecast January 26, calling the awards’ voting process “tainted.”

“I was recruited and hired by the Recording Academy to make positive change; unfortunately, I was not able to do that as its CEO,” Dugan said Monday afternoon in a statement after the news broke. “While I am disappointed by this latest development, I am not surprised given the Academy’s pattern of dealing with whistleblowers. Is anyone surprised that its purported investigations did not include interviewing me or addressing the greater claims of conflicts of interest and voting irregularities? So, instead of trying to reform the corrupt institution from within, I will continue to work to hold accountable those who continue to self-deal, taint the Grammy voting process and discriminate against women and people of color. Artists deserve better. To me, this is the real meaning of ‘stepping up.’ ”

Added her lawyers Douglas H. Wigdor and Michael J. Willemin: “The Academy’s decision to terminate Ms. Dugan and immediately leak that information to the press further demonstrates that it will stop at nothing to protect and maintain a culture of misogyny, discrimination, sexual harassment, corruption and conflicts of interest. The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, it’s leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable under the law.”

Here’s the Recording Academy’s full letter to its members today:

Dear Members:

As you know, Deborah Dugan has been on a paid administrative leave of absence since January 16, 2020. We are writing to let you know that, earlier today, the Board of Trustees voted to terminate Ms. Dugan’s employment as President/CEO of the Recording Academy.

This decision of the Board, with full support of the Executive Committee, was based on:

Two exhaustive, costly independent investigations relating to Ms. Dugan and the allegations made against her and by her. These investigations were carried out by experienced individuals with no prior relationship to the Academy, interviewed a combined total of 37 witnesses, and reviewed numerous relevant documents and emails. The investigators were not given any directives about what specifically to investigate or what conclusions, if any, they were expected to reach, and they were not limited by the Academy in terms of what witnesses they could interview or files or documents they could review. Each investigator had free rein to fully investigate all of the allegations that were made against Ms. Dugan and by Ms. Dugan against the Recording Academy.

The unwarranted and damaging media campaign that she launched in an attempt, without justification, to derail the GRAMMY Awards show, including her false allegations that the system was — in her words — “rigged” and that the Academy was “corrupt.”

Ms. Dugan’s consistent management deficiencies and failures, and other factors.

All of this led the elected leaders of the Academy to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Academy to move on.

This is not what we wanted or what we expected when we hired Ms. Dugan last year. At the time, we placed our trust in her and believed she would effectively lead the organization. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Though she made some valuable contributions, Ms. Dugan failed to perform her job duties as promised and expected.

Although we did participate in some settlement discussions at Ms. Dugan’s request after she stated that it was her desire to leave the Academy and be bought out of her employment contract, we were ultimately compelled to dismiss Ms. Dugan as our President/CEO. Not removing Ms. Dugan from the organization at this time would have caused us to compromise our values. We could not reward her with a lucrative settlement and thereby set a precedent that behavior like hers has no consequence. Our members and employees, and the entire music industry, deserve better than that.

The Board’s decision to dismiss Ms. Dugan closes one chapter in the Recording Academy’s history. It also begins a new one. In the coming days, we will initiate a search for a new President/CEO who will leverage the Academy’s diverse membership and rich history and help us transform it to better serve our members today and into the future. As we structure this new search, we will look carefully to see where the last one led us astray and make any necessary changes going forward.

It is not uncommon for organizations and leaders to part ways after a short period. It usually happens without rancor. Unfortunately, in this case, Ms. Dugan sought to damage our reputation on her way out, and it is likely we will see more attempts to disparage the Academy in the coming weeks. We regret that, as members of the Academy, you have had to endure so much recent negativity.

From this point forward, our focus will be on moving forward with the transformation agenda we initiated prior to hiring Ms. Dugan, and on working to improve the Academy. Much of this work has been happening but much of it is yet to come. We realize that we are not perfect, but we want you to know that our attention and energy will remain squarely on you and on the positive changes we are making together. We will not be distracted from that. We will use this moment to reflect on where we can be better, and pledge to realize a future in which our organization is known for its diversity, transparency, creativity, mutual respect, and overall excellence.

Thank you for your support and continued service and commitment to the Recording Academy.

— The Executive Committee of the Recording Academy

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