The first female Grammys chief was ousted just 10 days before the 2020 show over a misconduct allegation, but some insiders described the move as a 'coup'

ktenbarge@businessinsider.com (Kat Tenbarge)
Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan speaks at the 62nd Grammy Awards Nominations at CBS Broadcast Center on November 20, 2019 in New York City.

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

  • The first female chief executive of the Recording Academy was placed on administrative leave on Thursday, 10 days before the 2020 Grammys Awards, just five months after she took over the role. 
  • The Recording Academy Board of Trustees distributed a memo saying Deborah Dugan had been formally accused of misconduct by a senior female member of the academy, but some academy insiders described the move to Variety as a "coup."
  • The New York Times reports that Dugan sent a memo to the head of the Recording Academy's human resources team three weeks before her ouster describing something "seriously amiss at the Academy," including financial mismanagement and voting irregularities. 
  • A source at the academy told the Wall Street Journal that Dugan, whose predecessor stepped down after making sexist comments, didn't allege wrongdoing until after her employees began raising concerns.
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Deborah Dugan, the first female chief executive of the Recording Academy, was placed on administrative leave on Thursday due to a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the organization. The ouster occurred just 10 days before the 2020 Grammys and five months after Dugan assumed the role.

The Recording Academy's Board of Trustees didn't provide details of the allegation against Dugan, but some academy insiders described the move to Variety as a "coup," after Dugan complained in a memo to the head of human resources three weeks ago that "something was seriously amiss at the Academy."

The New York Times reports that Dugan detailed concerns including voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, conflict of interests involving the academy's board, executive committee, and outside lawyers, along with "exorbitant and unnecessary" legal bills. 

A source familiar with the ouster told the Wall Street Journal that a longtime assistant to Dugan's predecessor, Neil Portnow, filed the formal allegation about Dugan's management style. That assistant took a leave of absence from the academy more than three weeks ago, before Dugan sent the internal memo to HR. 

Bebe Rexha, Gayle King, Alicia Keys, Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Recording Academy Harvey Mason Jr. attend the 62nd Grammy Awards Nominations at CBS Broadcast Center on November 20, 2019 in New York City.

Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage

The Journal also reported that a person close to the academy's board says some members of the 8-person committee became aware of the allegations in late 2019, and that the full board was aware by early 2020.

That source says multiple employees at the academy raised concerns about Dugan, and that she did not make any accusations about the academy or its board members until after complaints about her were raised by employees. 

Dugan, who has worked as a lawyer, music executive, and most recently the chief executive of Red – the nonprofit group co-founded by U2's Bono – replaced Portnow after the former Recording Academy chief executive made sexist comments. The Grammys has faced repeated criticism over a lack of diversity and Portnow said in 2018 that women in the music industry need to "step up" in order to advance. 

Insiders told Variety that older members of the academy's board wanted to remove Dugan before she could lead a successful Grammys award show, in part because Dugan promised to make sweeping changes and asked questions like "'Why is the board so large?' and 'Why are we spending so much money?'"

Dugan's lawyer, Bryan Freedman, tweeted out Variety's article and added "What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told," and "When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you 'step up' at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit," in other tweets

He also used the hashtags "#thisiswhathappenswhenyoustepup," "#grammyssomale," and "#oldboysnetwork."

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