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Reports of Ousted Grammy Chief Demanding $22 Million Are ‘Outrageous,’ Sources Say

UPDATED: As the war of words between the Recording Academy and ousted president/CEO Deborah Dugan continues to escalate, interim boss Harvey Mason Jr. today issued a statement to the Academy’s membership about Dugan’s alleged misconduct and warned about “leaks and misinformation.”

The letter claims that Dugan’s attorney Bryan Freedman sought “millions of dollars” for his client to step down from her post and withdraw the allegations she made in a memo sources say she sent to the Recording Academy’s head of HR last month. Sources say the memo includes allegations about “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.” According to the Academy’s tax records, it paid $15 million to two outside law firms over the course of four years.

Late Monday, Billboard reported that an unidentified rep for the Recording Academy claimed that Dugan had demanded $22 million; two sources close to the situation tell Variety that report is “outrageous” and “completely untrue.” Reached by Variety for a response, a rep for the Academy said “The Recording Academy stands by the statement.”

The letter comes after a weekend that has seen Dugan’s attorney claiming she is under 24-hour security, and an article highly critical of Dugan posted late last night on the Showbiz 411 site, claiming that Claudine Little, the woman who sources say lodged the complaint of misconduct against Dugan, has retained Harvey Weinstein/ Charlie Walk attorney Patty Glaser and is planning a lawsuit against her. (It is perhaps worth noting that Showbiz 411 is a longtime supporter of Dugan’s predecessor Neil Portnow, whom Little worked with for 17 years).

Dugan has added New York-based litigator Douglas Wigdor to her team, who is representing an unidentified woman in the criminal trial against Weinstein. Wigdor and Freedman — who represented Megyn Kelly and Gabrielle Union in their exits from NBC and “America’s Got Talent,” respectively — both declined Variety‘s requests for comment.

The letter appears in full below. The incident has cast a dark cloud over Grammy Week, which begins tomorrow. Dugan was scheduled to speak at the Academy’s annual Entertainment Law Initiative lunch on Friday; sources tell Variety that Mason will be speaking in her place, although this was unconfirmed at the time of this article’s publication. 

Academy Family,

As a proud member of our music community and the Recording Academy’s interim President and CEO, I thought it important that I reach out to you all directly about Deborah Dugan. In her brief time with the Academy, Ms. Dugan and I were in sync about taking a fresh look at everything and making any and all changes necessary to improve the Academy as well as making it more current and relevant to the creative community we serve. I remain committed to that goal.

In November of 2019, the Executive Committee became aware of abusive work environment complaints alleged against Ms. Dugan and in December 2019, a letter was sent from an attorney representing a staff member that included additional detailed and serious allegations of a “toxic and intolerable” and “abusive and bullying” environment created by Ms. Dugan towards the staff. Given these concerning reports, the Executive Committee launched an immediate and independent investigation into the alleged misconduct of Ms. Dugan.

After we received the employee complaints against Ms. Dugan, she then (for the first time) made allegations against the Academy. In response, we started a separate investigation into Ms. Dugan’s allegations. Ms. Dugan’s attorney then informed the Executive Committee that if Ms. Dugan was paid millions of dollars, she would “withdraw” her allegations and resign from her role as CEO. Following that communication from Ms. Dugan’s attorney, Ms. Dugan was placed on administrative leave as we complete both of these ongoing investigations.

I’m deeply disturbed and saddened by the “leaks” and misinformation, which are fueling a press campaign designed to create leverage against the Academy for personal gain. As GRAMMY week is upon us, I truly hope we can focus our attention on the artists who’ve received nominations and deserve to be celebrated at this time of the year, and not give credence to unsubstantiated attacks on the Academy. To do otherwise is just not right.

As you know the Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees is composed of creative and technical artists and music makers from all genres, who’ve devoted their lives to making music and volunteering their time dedicated to the mission of the Recording Academy. These Trustees as well as the Governors in our 12 chapters give their time freely and passionately. Many are entrepreneurs who run small businesses devoted to their art, and generously donate their time not only to recognize their peers, but to fight for the rights of music makers, foster music education, and provide support to those in need all year long. Furthermore our hardworking and knowledgeable staff could not be more dedicated to supporting and furthering our mission. The current attacks on the Academy are attacks on these people, which are unwarranted, uninformed and unconscionable.

I encourage anyone who is truly interested to go beyond the sensational sound bites and teaser headlines and look at what the Academy actually does and how it functions. Don’t buy into headlines generated for personal gain but seek the truth as I am doing. As I mentioned we have initiated two independent investigations to explore all claims and present objective findings. My pledge to you is that I will address the findings of these investigations fairly and honestly and work to make needed repairs and changes while ensuring we have an Academy that honors diversity, inclusion and a safe work environment for all concerned.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and your support of our Recording Academy. 

Harvey Mason, Jr.

 

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