In the latest twist in the increasingly bitter exit of Deborah Dugan from the Recording Academy after just five months, the ousted president/CEO is about to face a lawsuit from her former assistant, Claudine Little, who has retained former Harvey Weinstein/ Charlie Walk attorney Patty Glaser to represent her, two sources tell Variety. The news was first reported by Showbiz 411, which said “the lawsuit would allege that Dugan caused an untenable situation in the executive offices that included verbal abuse and mistreatment.”
Glaser and reps for Dugan and the Academy did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.
Although Little — who was executive assistant to Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow, for 17 years — has not been officially confirmed by the Academy as the “senior female executive on the Recording Academy team” who leveled the formal complaint against Dugan, multiple sources say she is. Little has been on medical leave since the fall; presumably the Academy would shoulder her costs in such a lawsuit if it were to come to pass. Glaser’s record of clients also includes Kirk Kerkorian, Keith Olbermann and Conan O’Brien over the course of a 40-plus-year legal career.
The report heats up an intense battle of words between the two sides. Sources on Dugan’s side and her attorney say that she was on the verge of exposing widespread mismanagement and favoritism by the Academy, referencing a confidential memo she sent to its head of HR that sources say alleged exorbitant or unnecessary legal bills to outside attorneys, conflicts of interest and more (the company’s tax records show that it paid nearly $15 million to two outside law firms over five years). Sources close to the Academy say that she clashed with its culture and was dismissive and impatient with some employees. One thing is clear: It was an awkward fit.
Her predecessor, Neil Portnow, had a calm, gentlemanly and old-school demeanor that contrasts with Dugan’s more hard-charging approach, Internet savvy and agenda for change. Insiders say that she could be impatient and dismissive, especially with staffers whom she felt were not able to keep up with her. Little was believed to have borne the brunt of some of that impatience and was seen “visibly upset” a few times. They also say that Dugan was difficult to get on the phone or for a meeting. And perhaps most of all, she often was at odds not only with the Portnow loyalists remaining at the organization, but with the Board of Trustees that hired her and controls the Academy.
Yet others present a different take on the situation, noting that such behavior is certainly characteristic of many CEOs of large organizations, especially ones with the size and scope of the Academy and the Grammys. Dugan had a steep learning curve, had moved her family across the country, and was in the job for just five months before she was effectively dismissed. They also pointed to some staffers who “should have been fired a long time ago, but Neil kept around.” One insider also speculated that Dugan may have suffered from the lack of a guide to assist her with navigating the nuances of the Academy’s complex power structure, although it’s also possible she may not have been concerned with them.
The battle of words is rapidly proving to be a distraction from the Grammy Awards themselves, which take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT on Sunday night.