Charles Sykes / Invision / AP
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 | 12:05 a.m.
LOS ANGELES — Former Grammys CEO Neil Portnow said Wednesday that a rape allegation against him aired by his successor in a complaint against the Recording Academy is “false and outrageous.”
Portnow released a statement saying that the academy conducted a thorough and independent investigation of the accusation and he was “completely exonerated.”
His comment came a day after ousted academy CEO Deborah Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission asserting that she had been subjected to retaliation for reporting sexual harassment by an academy attorney and for calling out the “boys club” culture that pervades the institution.
The allegations were being exchanged during what is usually a celebratory week of parties and special events leading up to Sunday’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
Dugan said she learned during her six-month stint as CEO that Portnow had been accused of rape by a foreign recording artist and academy member after a performance at Carnegie Hall. The artist was not named.
“This document is filled with inaccurate, false and outrageous and terribly hurtful claims against me,” Portnow said. “There was no basis for the allegations, and once again I deny them unequivocally.”
Portnow, a 72-year-old former record label executive, did not seek an extension of his contract and left the CEO post last year after 17 years. He came under fire for saying women need to “step up” when asked backstage at the 2018 Grammy Awards why only two female acts won awards during the live telecast. Portnow again apologized for the comment on Wednesday.
Dugan’s attorneys responded Wednesday that they and their client stand by the complaint.
Portnow’s statement “is only the most recent in a series of defamatory attacks aimed at Ms. Dugan because she is a women who has shown the courage to stand up for what is right,” the lawyers said in a statement.
Portnow also said he never demanded the $750,000 annual consulting fee that Dugan’s complaint says she was urged to give him.
Dugan’s attorneys said that she never asserted Portnow made such a demand, only that the academy’s board chairman asked her to give him the job before Dugan was told about the rape allegation.
Dugan was put on administrative leave last week, and the wide range of allegations she aired in her complaint, which also criticized the awards nomination process, put the academy on the defensive and threatened to throw the institution into tumult at its most important time of year.
An interview Dugan gave to “Good Morning America” is set to air on Thursday and is likely to keep alive the conversation about the troubles surrounding the Grammys.
In response to her filing, the academy said Dugan’s complaints to a human resources executive in December about sexual harassment and other issues came only after she was accused of abusive behavior toward the executive assistant she inherited from Portnow.
The academy said in a statement Tuesday that it “immediately launched independent investigations to review both Ms. Dugan’s potential misconduct and her subsequent allegations.” Those probes have yet to be completed.
The employee who complained that Dugan was abusive, former Director of Administration Claudine Little, also came forward Wednesday, saying in a statement that Dugan is spreading a “false narrative” about her and the academy’s alleged gender bias that is “emblematic of Ms. Dugan’s abusive and bullying conduct” as CEO.
“It is disappointing that Ms. Dugan hopes to leverage public opinion along gender lines and expects not to be scrutinized for her inexcusable behavior simply because she is a woman,” Little said.
In her complaint, Dugan said her treatment of Little as her boss was entirely appropriate, and that she had done her a favor by keeping her on after Portnow’s departure.
Dugan’s complaint also alleged that Joel Katz, an influential music attorney and the academy’s general counsel, tried to woo her romantically and attempted to kiss her against her wishes during a dinner last year. Katz issued a statement late Tuesday saying he “categorically and emphatically denies her version of that evening.”
Also Wednesday, four women from the academy’s executive committee issued a joint letter lauding the organization’s recent work toward diversity and inclusion, supporting the investigations surrounding Dugan and emphasizing that the academy is sensitive to allegations of harassment or abuse.
“It is deeply disturbing to us — and quite frankly, heartbreaking — to witness the firestorm against our organization that has been unleashed,” the letter said. “We have collectively volunteered many years of service guiding and supporting this organization. We would not have taken precious time away from our families and careers if we felt that it was a ‘boys’ club.’”