Awards Business News Industry People Labels & Publishers Legal Top Stories

Recording Academy insists on arbitration for its Dugan dispute

By | Published on Thursday 6 February 2020

Deborah Dugan

The dispute between the US Recording Academy and its former CEO continues. Mainly the dispute between the US Recording Academy and its former CEO over how the dispute between the US Recording Academy and its former CEO should be pursued. Which is fun. The Academy is insisting on arbitration, but is happy for that to happen in public.

Deborah Dugan was hired by Grammy organiser the Recording Academy last year to shake things up a bit, and to address the widely discussed diversity issues at the music industry organisation and its annual awards event. She was then pushed out just before this year’s Grammys. The Academy said she’d been put on “administrative leave” because of allegations of bullying from an executive assistant. Dugan argued that she’d been sidelined because, despite hiring her to shake things up, the Academy didn’t want to do any shaking.

Not only that, but in an explosive legal filing, Dugan dubbed the bullying allegations a nonsense, and set out a series of allegations against the Academy, its board, its committees and its legal advisors, who were variously accused of corruption, misogyny, financial self-serving, sexual harassment and vote fixing.

Following last month’s Grammys show, Dugan wrote to the Academy’s board requesting that they voluntarily cut her free from a clause in her employment contract that says that any dispute between the organisation and its CEO must go to arbitration. That clause means Dugan can’t launch full-on legal action through the courts.

In her letter, Dugan argued that going the arbitration route would mean the dispute being fought behind closed doors, “denying the music industry and the public at large information concerning issues raised” in her previous legal filing.

She also argued that arbitration in employer/employee disputes is never truly fair, because the employer hires the arbitrator. And arbitration of this kind, she went on, is particularly inappropriate when there are allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination, as in this dispute. Dugan claims: “Forced arbitration takes away a victim’s right to a trial by a jury of her peers, and at the same time provides protection for perpetrators of misconduct”.

Not so, reckons Academy Chair Harvey Mason, who responded to Dugan in a letter earlier this week. He confirmed that the organisation has no plan to forgo arbitration, although he insisted it had nothing to hide and would therefore gladly cut Dugan free from any confidentiality commitments if she reciprocates.

Mason wrote: “Arbitration has been uniformly recognised by courts and commentators alike as an entirely fair process for achieving justice, while usually being far less costly than full-blown civil litigation. In the recent words of the Supreme Court, arbitration offers the ‘promise of quicker, more informal, and often cheaper resolutions for everyone involved'”.

However, he added, him insisting on arbitration had nothing to do with trying to keep the ongoing dispute private. “The Recording Academy has absolutely nothing to hide and, in fact, welcomes the opportunity to tell its story so that the entire music community and the world can hear the truth – and nothing but the truth – about what you did to this proud institution during your brief tenure as President/CEO”, he wrote, with added snark.

“In short”, he went on, “we welcome a full public airing of your allegations against the Academy as well as the Academy’s many claims and defences against you”.

Despite the concession on confidentiality, Team Dugan is still opposing arbitration on the grounds the process favours the employer. Her legal reps said in a statement: “The Recording Academy’s efforts at portraying arbitration as a fair process for employees [are] disingenuous as everyone knows arbitration unfairly favours, protects, and insulates employers from their unlawful actions”.

They then added: “It is telling that the Recording Academy is unwilling to allow a jury of Ms Dugan’s peers decide this matter”.

And so the dispute over how to pursue the dispute continues!