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Late Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun accused of sexual assault in new lawsuit

By | Published on Tuesday 29 November 2022

Ahmet Ertegun

Warner Music is facing an explosive lawsuit in relation to allegations of sexual assault being made against the late record industry veteran and Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. His accuser is utilising a new law in New York that allows alleged victims of sexual assault whose claims were previously barred by the statute of limitations to file new legal proceedings.

In the lawsuit, artist manager Jan Roeg alleges that Ertegun sexually abused and assaulted her multiple times, over many years from the early 1980s onwards, while she was working with his label – both as a talent scout and a manager with artists signed to the Warner-owned record company.

The first two alleged assaults occurred in 1983, first in Ertegun’s office, and then at his New York home following a dinner attended by various music industry execs. “Days after this second attack”, the lawsuit claims, “Mr Ertegun made it clear to Ms Roeg that she had to ‘get to know’ him in order to maintain her place (and that of her artists) at Atlantic”.

“That is”, it adds, “women who wanted to do business with Atlantic had to play along with Mr Ertegun’s sexual desires, and could not rock the boat with a complaint or lawsuit. And Mr Ertegun now held the fate of Ms Roeg’s artists, including the first one who was signed by the label, as well as her own career, in his hands”.

“Mr Ertegun’s abusive sexual conduct continued for years and even decades”, Roeg’s legal filing says, adding: “Ms Roeg frequently had to flee or storm out of Mr Ertegun’s office due to his misconduct, and the disheveled state of various other women who left his office over the years also made it obvious that he was engaging in inappropriate sexual activity on Atlantic’s premises”.

The lawsuit targets both Ertegun’s estate and Warner’s Atlantic Records Group. The latter is included as a defendant because, Roeg claims, management at the label in the 1980s and 1990s were fully aware of Ertegun’s conduct, but turned a blind eye to it.

“Atlantic’s management knew about Mr Ertegun’s conduct, and his obsessive sexual pursuit of Ms Roeg”, the lawsuit goes on, “which was characterised by volcanic eruptions of anger in the office [and] was obvious to all at the label”.

“Atlantic’s top executives and other management had ample opportunities to observe Mr Ertegun’s drunken, abusive conduct and hateful attitude towards women”, it continues, “including in company meetings in which he would openly brag about and recount in detail sexually exploitative escapades he engaged in backstage at concerts and the like”.

It also alleges that “Atlantic is known to have regularly paid money to women accusing Mr Ertegun of sexual misconduct, both before and after his abuse of Ms Roeg had begun”.

“Atlantic, however, did not act to protect Ms Roeg or its other female employees, business partners, and other women who crossed paths with Mr Ertegun in the course of doing business with the label”, it adds, “whether by reining in and disciplining Mr Ertegun himself, or putting in place training or other measures to prevent or impose consequences for misconduct such as sexual assaults and harassment”.

Noting that the lawsuit has been filed in response to the new Adult Survivors Act going into force in New York state, the legal filing concludes: “Mr Ertegun died in 2006, and his estate’s trusts and assets are managed by the trustees named in this action. Now, Mr Ertegun, through his estate and its trustees, and Atlantic Records, can be held accountable, as society better understands the trauma of sexual assault and abuse, and claims for such misconduct have been re-established under the New York Adult Survivors Act”.

Responding to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for Warner Music told the LA Times: “These allegations date back nearly 40 years, to before WMG was a standalone company. We are speaking with people who were there at the time, taking into consideration that many key individuals are deceased or into their 80s and 90s”.

While not commenting on any of the specific allegations against Ertegun, the spokesperson was nevertheless keen to stress that the corporate culture of the modern music business is very different to that of the 1980s and 1990s.

They added: “To ensure a safe, equitable, and inclusive working environment, we have a comprehensive code of conduct, and mandatory workplace training, to which all of our employees must adhere. We regularly evaluate how we can evolve our policies to ensure our work environment is free from discrimination and harassment”.