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THE DUGAN SAGA:
THE LATEST

The Deborah Dugan saga continues to unfold.

Recording Academy interim President/CEO Harvey Mason Jr., in a 1/20 letter to members, described an attorney’s letter outlining “detailed and serious allegations of a ‘toxic and intolerable’ and ‘abusive and bullying’ environment created by Ms. Dugan towards the staff.” These charges, he explained, led to Dugan’s being placed on administrative leave.

But our sources tell us that the straw that broke the camel’s back—and led to Dugan’s sudden ouster as Recording Academy boss on 1/17—was her defiance of the Grammy Board in her push for change in nominations and voting.

It appears that when she saw that, except for desired improvements in diversity outlined in the report from Tina Tchen’s task force, the Board was going to prevent the kind of systemic change she sought to implement, Dugan realized the writing was on the wall and submitted her findings to HR.

It’s said that the parties are currently negotiating a settlement, and that Dugan’s team (headed by attorney Bryan Freedman of Freedman + Taitelman LLP, with co-counsel Douglas Wigdor joining more recently) is asking for a figure north of $10m. An Academy source told Billboard’s Melinda Newman that Team Dugan wanted $22m; sources told Variety that figure is "outrageous" and "completely untrue."

It’s expected that an agreement will be hammered out, but not before more pre-Grammy bombshells drop.

The complaint against her came from Claudine Little, longtime assistant to Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow. Sources say Little is now represented by Patty Glazer of Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro LLP—who previously served as counsel for Harvey Weinstein, among others.

“I serve at the pleasure of the Board,” Dugan told us several weeks earlier. Clearly her efforts, particularly in looking under the hood as regards voting, incurred their displeasure, as she challenged the locus of power in the organization. When she bucked their agenda, it seems, they told her it was their way or the highway. Her now-infamous memo—which would seem to have been submitted when she concluded that the end of tenure was nigh—put her anti-corruption agenda on the record.

Dugan told us that with one exception, the board was prepared to implement all the recommendations in Tchen’s report—most of which were to do with greater diversity as regards gender and people of color in the organization and voting membership. She also told us that Portnow had 16 direct reports, all of them men, adding that she asked him how, in his decade-and-a-half in the job, he hadn’t been able to find one woman.

The one recommendation at which the Board balked involved changes to improve transparency and accountability in the Grammy nominations and voting process, to wit:

The Academy should consider implementing a ranked choice voting system to determine Grammy nominees and winners in General Field categories (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist).

We discussed this issue multiple times with Dugan, and she was deeply concerned about it.

The doings on the Nashville committee, in particular, sparked inquiry from Dugan—who wanted to know why breakout artists like Maren Morris were snubbed in the country categories, in favor of projects that had had far less impact. Dugan was particularly appalled by the notion—which her investigation seemed to bear out—that Morris’ decision to do a Playboy feature might have played a role in her being denied these nominations.

It’s been widely reported that Dugan’s recommendations included hiring in-house legal counsel to reduce Grammy’s legal fees. Variety noted that $15m was paid out to Greenberg Traurig and Proskauer Rose from 2013-17, and another cited $3m to both firms for fiscal 2018, with another $3.7m claimed for “unspecified legal fees.” She also addressed alleged “financial mismanagement.” (It remains unclear who leaked the content of Dugan’s memo to The New York Times; Mason’s letter also declares: “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.”)

But again, it’s becoming clear that Dugan’s attempt to clean up the rot around voting—which involved hacking through a massive tangle of agendas and corruption that had grown up since the Secret Committees were established—was her undoing in Grammyland.

Readers of this publication know that we have been clamoring for years for this rot to be addressed.

Over the course of several meetings with Dugan, we at HITS became convinced that she represented hope for substantive change at the Academy. We believed and continue to believe her to be a person of integrity and compassion. Was she tough and uncompromising in the face of incompetence? Undoubtedly.

She’s demonstrated that integrity throughout her career, not only in her eight impeccable years running Bono’s charity, (RED), but earlier on—such as when she took a $70,000 cut in pay (“when I had student loans,” she told us) to move from a cushy gig as a Wall Street lawyer to run legal services at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

The anger around Dugan’s forced exit among women—in the biz and pop culture at large—is palpable.

The chorus in support of her has ALSO included Chuck D of Public Enemy, whose distrust of Grammyland had been overcome by her entreaties; sponsor Americas Champagne Billecart-Salmon, whose VP Geoffrey Loisel sang her praises as “a person with high ethical standards” in announcing the end of the company’s Grammy sponsorship; Gabrielle Union and Megyn Kelly. Grammy host Alicia Keys is said to be struggling with the situation, though she has thus far remained on board.

Claims of threats against Dugan, allegedly necessitating a security detail, have further solidified the support mentioned above.

After Neil Portnow’s “step up” comments, several insiders have come forward to tell us, the Grammy powers knew they needed to improve the optics of the organization. Their hope was to have a reform campaign that appeared to tackle the diversity problem, and putting a female face on that campaign was optimal. The last thing the rulers of Grammyland wanted, these insiders say, was someone snooping around their golden goose, the awards—especially the cronyism of the Secret Committees. But with Dugan, that’s what they got.

 

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