By Gary Walker
Two new bombshells in the form of separate but related lawsuits roiled the Grammy Awards days before the nationally televised Jan. 26 music show when the assistant to Deborah Dugan filed a lawsuit against the Grammy CEO on Monday and the ousted Dugan took legal action of her own.
Dugan’s lawsuit, a gender discrimination suit brought against the Santa Monica–based Recording Academy, was filed on Jan. 21 and alleges “unlawful gender discrimination, sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation and unequal pay,” according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Argonaut. The suit was being reviewed by the Los Angeles Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The previous day, Claudine Little, who was Dugan’s executive assistant, filed a separate lawsuit, accusing Dugan of bullying and creating an “intolerable” work environment.
The music world was stunned when Dugan was placed on administrative leave on Jan. 16 after Little filed a formal complaint against her.
Attorneys at the New York-based law firm Wigdor LLP, which is representing Dugan, allege that Dugan, a Santa Monica resident, complained about a lack of diversity, sexual harassment, egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by board members, voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards, and other misconduct since she was hired last August. Those complaints, they argue, went unheeded and were the basis for her being placed on administrative leave.
“It was retaliation, pure and simple,” Dugan’s lawsuit states.
“The complaint that we filed today against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences highlights tactics reminiscent of those deployed by individuals defending Harvey Weinstein. As we allege, the attempt by the Recording Academy to impugn the character of Deborah Dugan is a transparent effort to shift the focus away from its own unlawful activity. This blatant form of retaliation in corporate America is all too common, even post #MeToo, and we will utilize all lawful means necessary to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their actions,” wrote attorney Douglas Wigdor said in a statement.
The Recording Academy noted that Dugan’s allegations came after she was placed on leave and sued by Little.
“It is curious that Ms. Dugan never raised these grave allegations until a week after legal claims were made against her personally by a female employee who alleged Ms. Dugan had created a ‘toxic and intolerable’ work environment and engaged in ‘abusive and bullying conduct.’ When Ms. Dugan did raise her ‘concerns’ to human resources, she specifically instructed human resources ‘not to take any action’ in response,” wrote academy spokeswoman Lourdes Lopez in an email response.
The Century City firm of Patricia Glaser, the attorney who was hired to represent disgraced producer Weinstein, is handling Little’s case. Calls to Terry Garvis Wright, a lawyer at Glaser’s firm, were not returned at press time.
Both sides accuse the other of attempted financial shakedowns.
“On the morning of the day she was put on leave, the academy offered Ms. Dugan millions of dollars to drop all of this and leave the academy. The board chair demanded an answer within the hour. When Ms. Dugan refused to accept and walk away, she was put on leave. The academy claimed that Ms. Dugan was put on leave based on accusations made against her over a month prior that the board knows very well are meritless. That is not a credible story,” stated Michael Willemin of Wigdor LLP.
The academy says they launched independent probes of Dugan’s claims and what they call her potential misconduct.
“Both of these investigations remain ongoing. Ms. Dugan was placed on administrative leave only after offering to step down and demanding $22 million from the academy, which is a not-for-profit organization. Our loyalty will always be to the 21,000 members of the recording industry. We regret that ‘Music’s Biggest Night’ is being stolen from them by Ms. Dugan’s actions and we are working to resolve the matter as quickly as possible,” Lopez wrote.
Evelyn McDonnell, an associate professor of journalism at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester and a music journalist for 25 years, said industries like the Grammys will have to tackle diversity at some point.
“All of these institutions have some real identity and sustainability issues that they have to address if they (want) to continue into the 21st century,” she said. “I think this is going to be their day of reckoning.”