Jackson, Levy talk over Polygram’s racial record

Polygram chairman Alain Levy and Rev. Jesse Jackson met Tuesday to discuss what the civil rights activist has described as Polygram’s pattern of “race and sex exclusion” — an assertion execs at the conglom deny.

The meeting follows a telephone call between the two on Friday and stems from Polygram’s disciplining of Eric Kronfeld, its domestic music group prexy and chief operating officer, for making a disparaging remark about African-Americans.

Levy dismissed Kronfeld from Polygram’s management board after remarks Kronfeld made during a deposition three weeks ago were brought to Levy’s attention by lawyers involved in the dispute. The remarks were recently made public.

The exec, who oversees the conglom’s legal affairs and human resources arms, was testifying as part of Island Records act Dru Hill’s lawsuit. The band is trying to extricate itself from its recording pact with the label.

Among the lawsuit’s claims, several members of the band assert they were assaulted by Island Records black music prexy Hiriam Hicks and his brother Joshua, whom the lawsuit as described as a bodyguard. As a result, the band feels it can no longer tolerate what it considers a hostile label environment.

Serious comment

Kronfeld, when asked if as overseer of the human resources arm he would allow someone with a criminal record to be hired, replied, “If every African-American male in the United States was disqualified from pursuing a livelihood, in any way, shape or form, because of a criminal record, then there would be no, or virtually no, African-American employees in our society or in our industry.”

Kronfeld was deposed Oct. 17 and removed from the board Oct. 22 as a result of a letter sent Oct. 20 to Levy by the band’s attorney, Londell McMillan.

The remark set off a flurry of internal and external activities, which included the Tuesday meeting. Jackson has publicly characterized Kronfeld’s remarks as indicative of the environment inside Polygram. Jackson, who asserts Polygram encourages such points of view, was brought into the fray by McMillan.

Execs at Polygram dismiss Jackson’s suggestion that the company has a pattern of race and sex exclusion. Sources said the pair’s meeting went well and that there would be future conversations.

“Eric Kronfeld made a statement with which we strongly disagree,” said a Polygram spokeswoman. “But that statement does not reflect his views. During the seven years (Kronfeld) has been at Polygram there is no evidence in word or deed of racist behavior on his part. Given the seriousness of the statement, notwithstanding the apology, Alain Levy dismissed him from Polygram’s management board.”

The band’s lawsuit stems from a fight at a nightclub in May when the two Hicks allegedly assaulted McMillan and Dru Hill manager Keith Ingram.

During discovery in the lawsuit, McMillan learned Joshua Hicks had an arrest record which included drug and assault charges. The disclosure of the criminal record precipitated McMillan’s question to Kronfeld.

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