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Grammy Awards chief Deborah Dugan fired by Recording Academy

Dugan was placed on administrative leave from her post as chairman/CEO of the Recording Academy in January after accusations of "misconduct" toward an employee.
The 20th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards - Special Awards Presentation
Deborah Dugan at the Special Awards Presentation during the 20th annual Latin GRAMMY Awards in Las Vegas on Nov. 13, 2019.John Parra / Getty Images for LARAS

Deborah Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave from her post as chairman/CEO of the Recording Academy in January after accusations of "misconduct" toward an employee sources say was her former assistant, has been terminated, the organization announced today in a letter to members.

The move is not a surprise, as Dugan, who was placed on leave just days before the Grammy Awards, fiercely disputed the Academy's version of events in a legal complaint and several statements, which accuse the organization of multiple instances of misconduct, including improprieties in the Grammy voting procedure, "egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members... and a 'boys' club' mentality"; "exorbitant" legal fees paid to outside law firms; and that attorney Joel Katz, an Academy executive affiliated with one of those law firms, attempted to "woo" and kiss her.

Sources have told Variety that Dugan's ouster was more of a "coup" by executives and officers at the Academy, who felt threatened by her agenda for change in the organization and disapproved of her management style. Dugan served in the role for just over five months.

Her complaint also states that in January her attorneys and the Academy had nearly negotiated a peaceful exit, but disagreed over a severance amount — which sources say was initially $8 million, in line with her employment contract, but was abruptly withdrawn and replaced with a much smaller offer by the Academy. She was placed on administrative leave shortly afterward.

In response, Doug Wigdor, an attorney for Dugan, tells Variety: "The Academy's decision to terminate Ms. Dugan and immediately leak that information to the press further demonstrates that it will stop at nothing to protect and maintain a culture of misogyny, discrimination, sexual harassment, corruption and conflicts of interest. The decision is despicable and, in due course, the Academy, its leadership and its attorneys will be held accountable under the law."

The Academy did not immediately respond to Variety's requests for comment on the response.

The Academy says in the letter, which is signed by the Executive and takes the same paternalistic tone as its other recent memos to members, that "In the coming days, we will initiate a search for a new President/CEO who will leverage the Academy's diverse membership and rich history and help us transform it to better serve our members today and into the future. As we structure this new search, we will look carefully to see where the last one led us astray and make any necessary changes going forward."

The letter fails to specify what Dugan's alleged behavior entailed, or to respond to many of her allegations; the Academy did not immediately respond to Variety's request for further details.

"Dear Members," the letter begins. "As you know, Deborah Dugan has been on a paid administrative leave of absence since January 16, 2020. We are writing to let you know that, earlier today, the Board of Trustees voted to terminate Ms. Dugan's employment as President/CEO of the Recording Academy."

"Ms. Dugan's consistent management deficiencies and failures, and other factors ... led the elected leaders of the Academy to conclude that it was in the best interests of the Academy to move on."

Dugan's complaint and multiple sources say the Academy's accusation of "misconduct" amounts to alleged verbal abuse against an unnamed female executive.

The Academy's letter of today continues, "This is not what we wanted or what we expected when we hired Ms. Dugan last year. At the time, we placed our trust in her and believed she would effectively lead the organization. Unfortunately, that is not what happened. Though she made some valuable contributions, Ms. Dugan failed to perform her job duties as promised and expected."

However, the letter, like the Academy's past communications, fails to specify what Dugan's alleged behavior entailed, or to respond to many of her allegations.