Complaint From Ousted Recording Academy Boss Alleges Its Former CEO Neil Portnow Raped A Female Artist

Recently ousted National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences president and CEO Deborah Dugan’s discrimination complaint filed Tuesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission included allegations that her predecessor Neil Portnow raped a female recording artist, and is the “real reason” his contract was not renewed.

The bombshell allegation comes five days before the 62nd edition of the Recording Academy’ marquee event, the Grammy Awards, take place at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The Recording Academy did not respond to a request for comment.

Dugan became the Academy’s first female chief executive in May replacing Portnow, whose 17-year tenure ended soon after he suggested following the 2018 Grammys that female artists should “step up” in response to a lack of awards representation.

The Academy’s board put Dugan on administrative leave Thursday amid misconduct allegations. In a statement at the time, the board had “determined this action to be necessary in order to restore the confidence of the Recording Academy’s membership, repair Recording Academy employee morale, and allow the Recording Academy to focus on its mission of serving all music creators.” Harvey Mason Jr took over as interim president and CEO, and later claimed Dugan demanded “millions of dollars” to withdraw complaints she made about the organization and resign.

After the Academy’s move, her lawyer hinted there was more to come. “What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told. 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,” Bryan Freedman tweeted.

That led to today’s filing (read it here), which said in part, “In short, Ms. Dugan was accused of acting in a hostile manner towards an Executive Assistant. Again, the Board was ready to hire Mr. Portnow as a consultant and pay him $750,000, even after he was accused of rape, made misogynistic comments and resigned in disgrace.”

Dugan’s complaint also includes claims that she was sexually harassed by Joel Katz, the Academy’s general counsel. It also alleges that she witnessed “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members, and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, all made possible by the ‘boys’ club’ mentality and approach to governance at the Academy.”

As for the Portnow claims, the complaint said she learned about the allegation against him ahead of a May board meeting discussing the findings of a task force studying possible bias against women and people of color in the music industry. That group is led by Tina Tchen, the current president of Time’s Up.

“However, just before Ms. Tchen was scheduled to begin to speak, Ms. Dugan was hauled into a conference room and told – for the very first time – that a foreign recording artist (and member of the Academy) had accused Mr. Portnow of raping her following a performance that she gave at Carnegie Hall,” the complaint states. “The news was presented to Ms. Dugan as though the Board had just learned of the allegation. In reality they were well aware of the allegation at the time Ms. Dugan agreed to take on the CEO position, but never told her.

“Incredibly, the full Board had not even been apprised of the allegation despite the fact that they were supposed to be voting the following day on whether to give Mr. Portnow a bonus for his past work for the Academy. Ms. Dugan quickly advised that the vote on a bonus could not go forward until the full Board was told of the rape allegation.

“Even worse,” it went on, “prior to disclosing to Ms. Dugan that Mr. Portnow had been accused of rape, the Board had asked Ms. Dugan to hire Mr. Portnow as a consultant for the hefty sum of $750,000. Ms. Dugan refused.”

The complaint said that “According to the artist’s attorney, a psychiatrist has confirmed that the sexual encounter between her and Mr. Portnow was likely not consensual.”

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