In what sources tell Variety represents a “coup,” Recording Academy President and Chief Executive Deborah Dugan has been placed on leave after an allegation of misconduct — just 10 days before the 62nd Grammy Awards.
Dugan took over on Aug. 1 as the first female president of the Recording Academy, which oversees the Grammy Awards. She replaced longtime Recording Academy Chief Executive Neil Portnow, who suggested in 2018 that female artists should “step up” if they wanted to be recognized at the Grammys, a remark that triggered a backlash.
“In light of concerns raised to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, including a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team, the Board has placed Recording Academy President and CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave, effective immediately,” according to a statement from the academy published in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times. “The Board has also retained two independent third-party investigators to conduct independent investigations of the allegations.
“The Board determined this action to be necessary in order to restore the confidence of the Recording Academy’s membership, repair Recording Academy employee morale, and allow the Recording Academy to focus on its mission of serving all music creators,” the statement said. “Board Chair Harvey Mason Jr. will serve as interim president and CEO pending the conclusion of the investigation. The Recording Academy Board of Trustees is committed to fostering a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace, music industry and society.”
Representatives for the academy said no other information was immediately available.
The New York Times reported Saturday morning that, according to a person with direct knowledge of the events, Dugan was removed after a complaint was filed by the assistant to her predecessor, Portnow, who also worked temporarily for Dugan. The assistant accused Dugan of a bullying management style, the person said, which contributed to the assistant taking a leave of absence.
Dugan’s dismissal came less than three weeks after she sent a memo to the academy’s head of human resources that detailed her concerns about the governance and practices of the organization, which she said led her to believe that “something was seriously amiss at the Academy.”
Her concerns detailed in the memo included voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, “exorbitant and unnecessary” legal bills, and conflicts of interest involving members of the academy’s board, executive committee and outside lawyers.
“What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told,” said Dugan’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, according to the New York Times. “When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you “step up” at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit.”
All indications Saturday morning were that Dugan’s tenure had been fraught.
A source with knowledge of the Recording Academy’s operations told the Los Angeles Times that Dugan “didn’t fit in, from the get-go.”
Her appointment, announced in May, was considered a concrete step toward addressing longstanding issues of gender bias in the music industry in general, and in particular at the Recording Academy.
Sources contacted by Billboard would not address the specific allegation of misconduct, but allege that, despite a thorough and months-long search for a new CEO, Dugan had not been a good fit almost from the start.
“It’s heartbreaking for people who care deeply about the organization that someone they trusted to fill that position would so quickly become so at odds with the organization,” said a source close to the Recording Academy, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Her relationships within the organization deteriorated rapidly, according to the Reporter. “Once there were some indications that she was not cooperating with the staff and the board, everything unraveled surprisingly quickly and in a very complex way,” the source said. “It wasn’t like a single incident. It was a series of issues. I think it goes way beyond not just being a good fit.”
Another source concurred, adding that “when you go in any job, you educate yourself in the past, as well as where you’re at to know how to move forward and I don’t think any of that was done appropriately by her.” Academy insiders met with Dugan a number of times to try to “hit the reset button and get on the same page,” sources says, according to the Reporter, but to no avail.
Yet another source says that the staff, many of them loyal to Dugan’s predecessor, Portnow, and the board were so entrenched in their way of thinking that Dugan was met with resistance at every turn.
“She was a huge source of discomfort for everyone there because she believed she was coming to be an agent of change, but they don’t really want change at all,” the source said. “They had entrenched ways of doing business and anything she tried to change was met with “That’s not the how we do it.”
The New York Times tweeted Friday, saying that Dugan was released “less than 3 weeks after she filed a memo to its (the Recording Academy) head of HR about concerns over voting irregularities and financial mismanagement.”
Sources close to the situation tell Variety that what may have taken place was a “coup”: a move by entrenched Academy veterans to discredit and remove Dugan, who came in promising significant changes to the organization before she could establish herself with a successful first show.
“Who are most of the senior executives in the Academy and the board? Older people resistant to change,” one insider said. “It was too much change for them, too soon.”
Another source added, “She may have been asking questions like, `Why is the board so large? ‘and ‘why are we spending so much money’ on certain executives and expenses. “There are people who had been there for years who knew they were going to be let go, and who knew they would not get a job that paid as well anywhere else.”
“I know a lot of the board members couldn’t stand her,” an insider told Variety.