An investigation into recently ousted Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan’s sexual harassment allegation against Academy general counsel Joel Katz has begun, according to two documents sent to “elected leaders” of the Recording Academy Thursday evening.
The memo, sent by interim CEO and board chair Harvey Mason Jr. and obtained by Rolling Stone, said that the harassment allegations are being “independently investigated by a law firm with no previous ties to the Academy,” and addresses many of the other allegations Dugan brought forth in her extensive complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January. That complaint detailed Katz’s alleged sexual harassment along with former Grammy head Neil Portnow’s alleged rape of a foreign recording artist and a fixed voting process at the hands of secret committees for the annual award show.
Katz and Portnow have both denied the allegations, and the Recording Academy has repeatedly denied the voting allegations, once again calling Dugan’s claims “utterly false” in Thursday’s memo, but said the voting process “needs to be better understood.” Insiders have told Rolling Stone of multiple instances in which these committees have influenced the nomination process.
“[Dugan’s] outrageous assertion that the Grammys are ‘rigged’ is utterly false,” Mason says in the “Note to Elected Leaders.” “We do realize that the nomination and voting process needs to be better understood so we have taken steps to make it more public and to educate people about how it works to preserve fairness and protect Nominations Review Committee members from lobbying and pressure.”
Mason Jr. also touched on the Academy’s legal fees to outside law firms, which Dugan brought up in her complaint. Along with paying its own general counsel, the Academy reportedly paid more than $15 million to Greenberg Traurig and Proskauer Rose.
“Our legal fees are well in line with industry standards,” Mason Jr. said in the memo. “While hiring a full-time in-house counsel would not eliminate the need for the use of expert law firms and could actually increase overall legal costs, the Academy was and remains willing to consider doing so if it will result in a savings to the Academy.”
Mason Jr.’s letter also mentioned the arbitration process between Dugan and the Academy. That process would keep much of the legal process confidential, and Dugan requested the Academy lift the arbitration completely and take the dispute to a juried court. The Academy responded by offering to lift the arbitration agreement’s confidentiality clause, which the Academy said would make the process more transparent to the public. Dugan hasn’t agreed to lift the confidentiality clause yet, having previously called arbitration as a whole unfair.
“The Academy had expressed a number of concerns to Ms. Dugan about her performance and had worked with Ms. Dugan to try to correct them,” Mason says in the memo. “Those specific concerns are being addressed in a confidential forum, to which she is entitled under Ms. Dugan’s employment contract, though in the interests of transparency we have offered to waive the confidentiality of any arbitration proceeding in this matter. So, while I would like to tell you more about that, I cannot at this time.”
The memo also said that the academy can’t begin a search for a new chief executive until the dispute with Dugan has been resolved. Finally, in the memo, Mason Jr. said the Recording Academy has implemented most of the recommendations brought forth by the Tina Tchen-led Academy Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which was established in 2018 in the months following Portnow’s controversial statements after the Grammy awards that women needed to “step up” for representation. The Task Force will reconvene to review the Academy’s progress, Mason Jr. said, though he did not reveal a specific date.
“It is difficult to read unfair criticism of the Academy in the media, but our reticence to respond should not be misinterpreted,” Mason wrote. “We are confident that when we are able to share all the facts, our members, the industry, and the public will understand that all our actions have been appropriate and in the interest of making progress towards our shared goals of diversity, inclusion, and our mission to recognize musical excellence, advocate for the well-being of music makers, and ensure that music remains an indelible part of our culture.”
Attorneys for Dugan and Katz did not immediately reply to requests for comment.