The suspended chief executive of the organization behind the Grammy Awards claims the nominating process for the music industry ceremony is “rigged” and clouded by conflicts of interest.
Deborah Dugan, who was placed on administrative leave last week about 10 days before this year’s ceremony, painted the Recording Academy as an institution rife with corruption in which powerful industry figures exercise undue influence on who gets recognized for music’s top honors.
She also described the academy as an “old boys’ club” where misogyny runs rampant.
“I was so shocked when I got there of the level of sexism and corruption that I found at the Recording Academy,” Dugan told NBC News’ Kate Snow on Thursday, later adding: “There’s a layer of corruption, self-dealing and sexism that must go.”
Dugan is in a legal battle with the Recording Academy, which has said it suspended her while it investigates allegations that she had created a “toxic” work environment with an “abusive and bullying” management style.
Dugan denied that description of her roughly five months as chief executive, telling NBC News: “I was not abusive.”
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The interview took place two days after Dugan filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming she had been placed on leave in retaliation for having sent a memo outlining her concerns about the academy to human resources.
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In the complaint, Dugan claims that she sent an email to the director of human resources on Dec. 22 detailing “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by board members and voting irregularities with respect to nominations for Grammy Awards.”
She also alleges unlawful gender discrimination, sexual harassment, unlawful retaliation and unequal pay.
The academy said Dugan’s allegations about its voting procedures were “utterly untrue.”
“The Academy has rigorous and well-publicized protocols in place to ensure that voting is absolutely fair — and free of conflicts of interest. For Ms. Dugan to suggest anything to the contrary is simply not true,” it said in the statement, directing readers to an explanation of the voting process on its website.
Dugan elaborated on some of her claims Thursday, portraying the awards nominating system as an essentially fixed process wherein board members, producers, lawyers and other “people with power” in the business try to determine which recording artists end up on the ballot.
“If there are certain artists that the producer would like [to perform] on the show, there are strong hints, influence, that might affect a select few in the nominating process,” Dugan said. She said she was aware of occasions when musicians would be sitting in the room during meetings of the nominating committee.
In the discrimination complaint, Dugan alleges that major pop artists Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran were not nominated for song of the year at this year’s ceremony because people involved in the nominating process effectively took those slots for their preferred artists.
Dugan insisted that musicians were unaware of the corruption behind the ceremony, saying that a “great majority of the [nominees] are so, so well-deserving” and that her allegations were not attempts to steal the spotlight or to impugn artists.
She broke down crying as she described her conflict with the academy, saying she has had a “career of integrity,” including a stint as chief executive of the anti-HIV/AIDS nonprofit (RED).
“I knew going in that this would be difficult,” Dugan said, fighting back tears. “I had no idea what I would find.”