Neil Portnow, who stepped down as CEO of the Recording Academy last year, Wednesday denied a statement by his ousted successor that he raped a foreign recording actress and that the attack was the real reason he had to step down — not his controversial and allegedly misogynist statement that women in the music industry would have to “step up” to earn greater Gammys recognition.
The allegation that he raped a “foreign recording artist” after her show at Carnegie Hall in New York was contained in a document filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Los Angeles by Deborah Dugan, the recently ousted CEO of the Recording Academy. In a statement Wednesday morning, Portnow called the allegation “ludicrous and untrue.”
“The suggestion that there was (a rape) is disseminating a lie. The baseless complaint about my conduct referenced in the EEOC filing was immediately brought to the attention of the board of directors’ executive committee. An in-depth independent investigation by experienced and highly regarded lawyers was conducted and I was completely exonerated. There was no basis for the allegations, and once again I deny them unequivocally,” Portnow said.
Portnow also denied that he asked Dugan to pay him for consulting services. Dugan said he wanted a $750,000 consulting fee and that members of the board asked Dugan to put him on retainer — a reported request Portnow did not address in Wednesday’s statement.
Dugan’s complaint said members of the Recording Academy board informed her of the accusation against Portnow in May 2019. Though the artist who suffered the alleged rape is not named in the EEOC filing, the document notes that “a psychiatrist has confirmed that the sexual encounter between her and Mr. Portnow was likely not consensual.”
Portnow added that Dugan’s filing “is filled with inaccurate, false, and outrageous and terribly hurtful claims against me.”
The EEOC discrimination complaint came days after Dugan was placed on administrative leave. It contends Dugan was placed on leave in retaliation for a December email to the academy’s human resources manager alleging “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the `boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance at the academy.”
Dugan’s email also alleged that she was subjected to sexual harassment last year by the academy’s general counsel. According to the complaint, Dugan was placed on leave last Thursday, three weeks after sending her email. The academy also issued a “false and defamatory” explanation that the move was in response to a misconduct complaint against Dugan by a female employee of the academy, according to the document.
The complaint also contends that the academy’s interim president, Harvey Mason Jr., sent a letter to academy members on Monday designed to “further destroy Ms. Dugan’s reputation” by accusing her of “manufacturing legal claims.”
In a joint statement, Dugan’s attorneys, Douglas H. Wigdor and Michael J. Willemin, issued a joint statement saying the academy is using tactics “reminiscent of those deployed by individuals defending Harvey Weinstein.”
“As we allege, the attempt by the Recording Academy to impugn the character of Deborah Dugan is a transparent effort to shift the focus away from its own unlawful activity,” they said. “This blatant form of retaliation in corporate America is all too common, even post #MeToo, and we will utilize all lawful means necessary to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”
The Recording Academy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, however, the academy called it “curious that Ms. Dugan never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally by a female employee. … When Ms. Dugan did raise her `concerns’ to HR, she specifically instructed HR `not to take any action’ in response.”
“Nonetheless, we immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms. Dugan’s potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations,” according to the academy’s statement. “Both of these investigations remain ongoing. Ms. Dugan was placed on administrative leave only after offering to step down and demanding $22 million from the academy, which is a not-for-profit organization.
“Our loyalty will always be to the 25,000 members of the recording industry. We regret that Music’s Biggest Night is being stolen from them by Ms. Dugan’s actions and we are working to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.”
The Recording Academy will present the 62nd Grammy Awards on Sunday in Downtown Los Angeles.
Dugan took over on Aug. 1 as the first female president of the Recording Academy, replacing Portnow. Portnow suggested in 2018 that female artists should “step up” if they wanted to be recognized at the Grammys, a remark that triggered a backlash.
The New York Times reported that the misconduct complaint against Dugan was made by an assistant to Portnow, who also worked temporarily for Dugan. The assistant accused Dugan of a bullying management style, which contributed to the assistant taking a leave of absence, according to the NYT report.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: