The Recording Academy has faced criticism over the last several years for its lack of diversity in terms of race and gender. In 2018, only one woman won a solo award in the televised portion of the event. Additionally, the award show was criticized for its failure to recognize artists of color for their contributions in a year when rap and hip hop dominated the charts. When questioned about the lack of female representation, then CEO of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, suggested the reason that so few women were recognized was because they failed to “step up.” In response to the backlash, the Grammys made a series of changes in the membership and nominations processes in order to better address these issues. However, last year, pop and hip hop artists Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Ariana Grande all declined to perform at the show. Additionally, Neil Portnow stepped down after his contract expired this past summer.

New drama crept its way into this year’s event as the Recording Academy faces significant legal troubles. Portnow’s replacement, Deborah Dugan, has just filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“the EEOC”), alleging sexual harassment and discrimination during her tenure at the Recording Academy. Dugan was recently placed on leave after reports of bullying behavior. Just days after, she filed a 44-page charge with the EEOC, alleging unwanted sexual advances by the Recording Academy’s general counsel Joel Katz. Dugan also alleged that she was pressured to hire Neil Portnow as a consultant, despite his negative history with the Grammys and rape allegations against him by a female recording artist. Dugan reported these allegations to the human resources department at the Recording Academy in December. The EEOC charge claims that her removal was retaliatory for that report. Both Joel Katz and the Recording Academy have denied these allegations.

An EEOC charge is the first step in pursuing litigation against the Recording Academy. Before a plaintiff can file a Title VII sex discrimination suit in court, they are required to file with the EEOC. The EEOC will now have the option to file suit on behalf of Ms. Dugan, but it is more likely that the agency will issue her the “right-to-sue” letter that is a jurisdictional prerequisite for a suit under that statute.

On the morning of this year’s Grammy’s, the Recording Academy announced new diversity and inclusion initiatives that were suggested by a task force that worked closely with Dugan during her tenure. It remains to be seen the extent of the allegations’ effect on the night’s events.

–Hannah Masters

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