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US Recording Academy crisis continues as ousted CEO dubs investigations “biased”

By | Published on Friday 31 January 2020

Deborah Dugan

Last weekend’s Grammy Awards may already be nothing but a distant memory (someone won something, no one tuned in), but the battle between organiser the Recording Academy and its ousted CEO Deborah Dugan continues. This week she called on the Academy’s board to make good on its recent commitment to “transparency” by ensuring that her dispute with the organisation is conducted in the most transparent way.

Dugan, of course, was put on “administrative leave” by the Academy just over a week before the big Grammys show.

The Academy claimed that it had suspended its CEO because of complaints over her bullying management style. She responded with an explosive legal filing, dubbing the bullying allegations a nonsense, and setting 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.

In a back and forth of statements and interviews, the Academy denied most of Dugan’s claims, accusing her of ruining the Grammy Weekend in order to pursue a personal vendetta. The ousted CEO stood her ground and repeated her allegations.

Now we have the matter of Dugan’s legal filing with the Californian office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, plus the two independent investigations the Academy has instigated. One of those is focused on Dugan’s allegations, the other on the complaint filed by an executive assistance about the former CEO’s conduct.

What will we learn from all that? Well, not enough, reckons Dugan. Because, despite Academy Chair Harvey Mason writing in an email to his members on Sunday that “we can all be proud that we are recommitting ourselves to transparency”, the formal legal wranglings and investigations are not likely to be transparent or fair. Or so argues Dugan.

In a letter on Wednesday, she called on the Academy to cut her free from a clause in her employment contract that forces her to pursue her complaints against the organisation through private arbitration rather than the courts.

She writes: “I am calling upon the Academy to voluntarily release me from the arbitration agreement. The public is not permitted to access or even learn about what is happening during the arbitration process. Thus, to the extent that the Academy is successful in forcing me to arbitrate my claims, it will simultaneously be denying the music industry and the public at large information concerning issues raised in my EOCC charge”.

“While I understand that it might be in your interest to keep the evidence and proceedings behind closed doors”, she added, “the public and the industry have a right to know what is going on in the Academy, which is a ‘public’ not-for-profit organisation”.

Dugan then went on to argue that private arbitration is a particularly inappropriate forum through which to pursue disputes when there are allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination; which, of course, are among the complaints in her EOCC filing. Noting that a number of big companies have voluntary conceded this point, she writes “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”.

As for the Academy’s investigations into complaints from and about Dugan, she has issues with them too. The independent investigator, she says, has been hired by one of the law firms she criticised in her EOCC complaint. Therefore, “the results of the investigation are a foregone conclusion because the process is completely biased”.

She continues: “I am also expected to participate in this investigation even though the investigator has denied my request for access to all the evidence and documents that she amasses during the investigation. In contrast, the Academy (who will be paying the investigator) will have all the evidence that is amassed, and will be able to conceal that evidence from the public and the music industry”.

“I want nothing more than to participate in a complete, thorough and truly independent investigation”, she insists. However, “I cannot, in good conscience, participate in an investigation rife with conflicts of interest and obvious partiality”. To that end she calls on the Academy to cancel its current investigation and to work with her to appoint another investigator that would then report to both parties.

Responding to the letter, the Academy told reporters: “Ms Dugan continues to attempt to manage public perceptions through misinformation. The Recording Academy is weighing all of the available information and considering our options as it relates to the next steps with Ms Dugan. We remain extremely disappointed in how she is choosing to handle the situation and strongly disagree with many of her claims. At this point, we are focused on the future and are excited about continuing the agenda of change and progress”.

And so the dispute rumbles on. The Academy may be hoping that, with the Grammys Weekend done and dusted, public interest in its bust up with Dugan will wane. And then, with its tightly controlled investigations and repeated statements about “transparency” and “diversity”, it can put this month’s crisis well and truly behind it. Maybe that’ll work.

Though Dugan clearly has no plans to settle her grievances behind closed doors. And – whatever allegations in her explosive legal document are true or false – the current board and legal advisors of the Academy are now incredibly tarnished by this whole thing.

So much so, you have to wonder if and when they will finally accept that they have no personal role to play in helping the Academy and its big annual awards event move on from this whole debacle.