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Grammys CEO says she was ousted after reporting harassment

Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan attends the Latin Grammy

Grammys CEO Deborah Dugan attends the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas on Nov. 14, 2019. Credit: Invision / AP / Eric Jamison

LOS ANGELES — The ousted Grammys CEO has fired back at the Recording Academy with a complaint claiming she was retaliated against after reporting she was subjected to sexual harassment and gender discrimination during her six-month tenure.

Lawyers for Deborah Dugan, whom the academy placed on administrative leave last week, filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday. In the filing, she claims she was subjected to sexual harassment from the academy’s general counsel, Joel Katz, which Dugan detailed in an email to an academy human resources executive on December 22, 2019.

The complaint also states Dugan was paid less than former academy CEO Neil Portnow, who left the post last year.

Portnow had been criticized for saying women need to “step up” when he was asked backstage at the 2018 show why only two female acts won awards during the live telecast. Portnow called his comments a “poor choice of words” and later said he chose not to seek an extension on his contract.

A filing with the Internal Revenue Service shows that Portnow was paid $1.74 million in 2016. Dugan’s compensation was not revealed in Tuesday’s filing.

Last week the academy said that Dugan, the former CEO of Bono’s (RED) charity organization, was put on leave following an allegation of misconduct by a senior leader at the organization — just days before the Jan. 26 Grammy Awards.

In her Dec. 22 email, Dugan called the academy “a boy’s club.

“In my efforts to successfully resolve the many outstanding lawsuits facing the academy that I inherited, one of the claimants characterized her experience of our organization’s leadership as 'it’s a boy’s club and they put their financial interest above the mission.' At the time, I didn’t want to believe it, but now after 5 months of being exposed to the behavior and circumstances outlined here, I have come to suspect she is right,” she wrote.

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Representatives for the academy didn’t immediately reply to emails seeking comment. An email sent to Katz said the attorney was out sick. Katz’s firm said it had not yet seen the complaint and could not comment on its allegations.

In the complaint, Dugan alleges that in May 2019, when she had accepted the CEO position but had not begun her work, she had dinner with Katz, the academy’s general counsel, alone at his request in Laguna Niguel, California.

There, Katz acted “extremely inappropriately,” according to the complaint, calling Dugan “baby,” and making “an obvious and unwelcome attempt to ‘woo’ Ms. Dugan into a romantic relationship.” The complaint states Dugan made it clear she wasn’t interested and was in a committed relationship, but he still attempted to kiss her at the end of the night, and Dugan “quickly turned away, repulsed.” Katz continued the harassment in subsequent interactions, the complaint alleges.

It also contends that Katz and his firm were paid exorbitantly and inappropriately by the academy, and that his representing both the academy and artists who are up for Grammys was a conflict of interest.

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