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Atlantic Records faces second lawsuit over its 1980s corporate culture following New York’s Adult Survivors Act

By | Published on Tuesday 6 December 2022


Warner Music’s Atlantic Records is facing a second lawsuit as a result of the Adult Survivors Act going into force in New York state. Former Atlantic employee Dorothy Carvello says that she was sexually harassed and assaulted by senior management at the label when she worked there from 1987 to 1990, including by the label’s co-founder Ahmet Ertegun.

The new law in New York allows alleged victims of sexual assault whose claims were previously barred by the statute of limitations to file new legal proceedings at any point over the next year. Multiple lawsuits targeting key record industry figures and the companies they worked for are expected as a result of the new law.

Last week talent scout and artist manager Jan Roeg sued Atlantic and the Ertegun estate in relation to incidents that allegedly occurred when she worked for and with the Warner label in the 1980s.

Her lawsuit described how she was sexually harassed and assaulted by the Atlantic Records co-founder, and accused management at the label of deliberately turning a blind eye to his conduct while seeking to pay off and silence his victims.

In her lawsuit, Carvello says that during her stint working as an executive assistance and then A&R at Atlantic she was “subjected to persistent and pervasive nonconsensual and forcible sexual contact, degrading sexual innuendo and insults, and outrageous ‘tasks’ for the sexual gratification of executives at Atlantic Records”.

“These injuries inflicted and abetted by defendants include several sexual assaults and batteries”, the legal filing adds, “among other sexual misconduct, harassment, and discrimination, as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress”.

As well as the Ertegun estate, Carvello’s lawsuits also targets two other record industry veterans who worked at Atlantic in the late 1980s, including Doug Morris – who later went on to run both Universal Music and Sony Music. Jason Flom, meanwhile, is accused of tolerating and therefore facilitating Ertegun and Morris’s bad conduct.

“Mr Ertegun and Mr Morris each horrifically sexually assaulted Ms Carvello”, the lawsuit claims. “Mr Flom, Atlantic Records and Warner Music Group knowingly enabled Mr Ertegun’s, Mr Morris’ and others’ outrageous workplace sexual assault”.

“As such”, it goes on, “in addition to the damage and suffering Ms Carvello endured from Mr Ertegun’s and Mr Morris’ sexual assault as detailed herein, all of the defendants enabled these executives’ repeated sexual assault and by creating, maintaining, and perpetuating the toxic workplace culture in which such sexual assault was permitted, thereby inflicting extensive emotional distress as well”.

The lawsuit describes in some detail the culture at Atlantic Records in the late 1980s, as well as outlining specific allegations of harassment and assault against Ertegun and Morris. It also claims that Morris fired Carvello when she finally made a formal complaint about the sexual harassment she was forced to endure.

The lawsuit continues: “Executives at Atlantic Records, including those at the top of the company’s management like Messrs Ertegun and Morris, treated the company, its corporate headquarters, recording studios – and even its corporate helicopter – as places to indulge their sexual desires”.

“Employees like Ms Carvello were the collateral damage of this toxic workplace culture”, it adds. “And when Messrs Ertegun’s and Morris’ violence and sexual assault was reported, their victims were routinely paid settlements with corporate funds in exchange for signed non-disclosure agreements”.

Carvello has actually been pretty candid about her experiences working in the record industry for sometime, describing those experiences in some detail in her book ‘Anything For A Hit’, which is now being adapted into a docuseries. Earlier this year she launched the Face The Music Now Foundation, an organisation that supports survivors of sexual harassment and abuse in the music industry.

She has also bought shares in all three major record companies, with a plan to rally other shareholders to pressure the music firms to cancel any NDAs currently in force over current or former employees that relate to harassment. And in September, as a shareholder in Warner Music, she asked it to share any records it has on sexual misconduct allegations – and other claims of bad practice – that have been made within the company.

In response to Carvello’s lawsuit, Warner Music repeated its response to Roeg’s litigation: that it takes these allegations seriously and is investigating, but the alleged incidents happened a long time ago, and it’s corporate culture today is entirely different and much more respectful and safe.

While that may be true, if Roeg and Carvello’s lawsuits make it to court – or even if just a number of other legal claims are filed under the new laws in New York – the spotlight will increasingly fall on how the record industry operated in previous decades.

And that will likely force a considerable re-evaluation of certain previously revered and honoured veterans of the business, while tarnishing some legacy label brands in the process.

Though for the victims of that toxic corporate culture of old, the main question is likely to be how it took so long for that re-evaluation to begin.