How deeply ingrained is sexual harassment in the music industry? Ask any veteran and then plug your ears for the incredulous response. Three cases from more than a quarter-century ago, revealed in a blockbuster 1991 Los Angeles Times article by Laurie Becklund and Chuck Philips, show how endemic the culture is — and judging by such recent cases as these, how little has changed.
Marko Babineau was a high-flying promotion executive who helped make Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Whitesnake and Cher to 1980s radio goliaths; he was later elevated to GM of the Geffen offshoot DGC, home of Nirvana and Sonic Youth. However, on Sept. 4, 1991, days before the release of Nirvana’s galvanizing “Nevermind” album, Babineau resigned from the company after his 28-year-old assistant, Penny Muck, complained that he had “masturbated in front of [her] in her office despite [her] protests” and ejaculated “onto a magazine she was reading,” according to her attorney, Benjamin Schonbrun, and other Times sources. She subsequently filed a lawsuit, which was settled out of court for an estimated $500,000, the Times reported.
Sources said Babineau had begun sexually harassing female employees as early as 1984; Schonbrun told the paper that Geffen “had knowledge of the deviant behavior of one of its executives and did not take appropriate measures to ensure a safe and sexual harassment-free environment at Geffen for years.”
Just 12 days after Babineau’s departure, another former Geffen employee, Christina Anthony, signed a claim against the label saying that she was forced to resign because of “intolerable working conditions created in retaliation” for her complaints, she told the Times. She said she had been verbally and physically harassed by Babineau multiple times between 1984 and 1990. “I personally told three top executives under David Geffen of the abuse and nothing was done about it,” Anthony said.
The label announced Babineau’s departure via a press release saying he was taking a six-month break to spend time with his family and baby daughter, although the company later acknowledged that he was dismissed as a result of Muck’s lawsuit.
However, after just two months he formed MJB Promotions and was hired as an indie by Geffen — which reportedly paid him an amount equal to his former salary — as well as other labels. He shuttered that company in December 2001 and has since worked as a realtor in the Los Angeles area.
“This company is dedicated to the principle of a harassment-free work environment,” a Geffen rep told the Times in 1991. “We do not condone or tolerate harassment of any kind including sexual, racial or religious. But we are also dedicated to due process and believe it is wrong to prejudice any claim. Therefore, because of potential litigation, our attorneys have advised us not to comment further on this subject.”
In January of 1991, RCA SVP of A&R Jeff Aldrich was terminated after a “double-digit number” of female company employees complained that he had harassed them while inebriated at a company conference in December of 1990. “He was sticking his hand down blouses and up skirts,” according to a company employee quoted in Entertainment Weekly. RCA declined to comment at the time whether a financial settlement was involved; the EW article included a “remorseful” general confirmation of the incident from Aldrich. He checked himself into a rehabilitation facility in mid-December and was fired early in January, but was brought on as an independent consultant less than a month after his termination. He continued to work in that role for several months until he was hired as an A&R exec by Irving Azoff’s Warner-distributed label Giant Records, and then later to Warner Bros. Records. Aldrich rejoined RCA in 2009, leaving the company two years later.
Also in 1991, Mike Bone, a president or co-president of three record labels in as many years — Chrysalis, Island and Mercury — was terminated from the latter company after he was hit with a lawsuit from a former assistant for sexual harassment and wrongful discharge. Lori Harris sued the executive and the company, accusing Bone of propositioning her at a party in July 1990 and, after she declined his advances, firing her the next day.
“We all do stupid things,” Harris said to the Times. “He had been drinking, and if he had said he was sorry the next morning, I would have understood. Instead, he fired me.”
She complained at the time to no avail, she said. ”Island Records and [its then-parent company] PolyGram don’t care what happened to me,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “They moved him from president of a company where he had been accused of harassing and firing his assistant to president of a new company [Mercury, also a PolyGram label at the time], where no one knew what he’d done. He got to start over.” (Bone, Babineau and Aldrich did not immediately respond to Variety‘s offer to comment for this article.)
Bone was fired by Mercury in November, days before the Los Angeles Times article was published. He relocated to Los Angeles and later worked with Rick Rubin’s Def American Recordings, IRS Records, Capricorn Records and Chris Blackwell’s Palm Pictures label.
As word spread of his impending hire by Def American, the Times spoke again with Schonbrun, Penny Muck’s attorney.
“The arrogance and contempt shown by companies toward their female employees obviously continues. When these bastions of male domination are hit with large money judgments by juries who are outraged, maybe then they will understand that women have a right to be treated fairly and with respect in the workplace,” Schonbrun said — in February of 1992.