Recording Academy Hiring Lawyer After ‘Boys Club’ Settlement (1)

Aug. 25, 2021, 4:36 PMUpdated: Aug. 25, 2021, 7:53 PM

The Recording Academy, which presents the Grammy Awards, is looking for its first in-house counsel for legal affairs after settling a dispute involving its former CEO.

The Academy earlier this month posted a job opening for a lawyer in its headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif. The listing is for someone who will work with the organization’s outside counsel, according to the Academy, which did not provide further details about the new legal position.

The prospective hire will oversee day-to-day legal matters for the Academy, which is comprised of musicians, producers, and recording engineers. The hire will be a key strategic adviser to the Academy, its board of trustees, and senior staff, while also ensuring that the organization’s “legal policies and practices are best in class,” states the legal counsel job listing.

The move to hire an in-house lawyer comes a little more than a month after the Academy settled an EEOC discrimination case brought by its former president and CEO, Deborah Dugan. She made headlines two years ago by accusing the organization’s outside general counsel, Joel Katz, of sexual harassment.

Katz, then a partner and founding chairman of Greenberg Traurig’s global entertainment and media practice, retained his own counsel and vigorously denied Dugan’s allegations.

In June, the Academy’s current president and CEO, Harvey Mason Jr., gave an interview to music industry publication Billboard in which he said the organization had started the process of hiring an in-house counsel after it came under scrutiny for the fees paid to outside firms. Billboard reported last year that the Academy paid out more than $4.5 million to lawyers during fiscal 2019.

A new in-house lawyer for the Academy is expected to have more than eight years of experience at an “established law firm” or corporate legal and business affairs department, according to the organization’s job listing.

Ex-CEO’s Ouster

Dugan accused the Academy of placing her on administrative leave and then firing her after she raised concerns about diversity issues, a “boys club” atmosphere, and potential conflicts of interest involving the organization’s board members. Dugan’s EEOC complaint also criticized what she called “exorbitant” legal fees incurred by Greenberg Traurig, Proskauer Rose, and other law firms representing the Academy.

The details of Dugan’s settlement with the Academy have not been disclosed.

Katz left Greenberg Traurig earlier this year and joined Barnes & Thornburg as senior counsel in Atlanta. He didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether he still does work for the Academy. Greenberg Traurig, which has continued to advise the Academy, declined to discuss client matters.

A copy of the nonprofit’s federal tax filing for fiscal 2019 shows that Greenberg Traurig’s Atlanta office, where Katz used to work, received nearly $1.5 million from the Academy. Proskauer’s Los Angeles office was paid more than $1 million. The fees for both firms were mostly in line with what they received in previous years.

Greenberg Traurig was paid nearly $1.8 million in fiscal 2018; more than $6.3 million in fiscal 2017; and almost $1.2 million in fiscal 2016, according to tax filings. Proskauer received roughly $906,700; $873,500; and $829,000 from the Academy for legal services during those respective fiscal years. The MusiCares Foundation Inc., a separate, Santa Monica-based charitable arm of the Academy, also paid $166,800 to Proskauer in fiscal 2020 and $296,600 to the firm in fiscal 2019.

‘Diverse’ Legal Needs

In a roundtable discussion hosted by Billboard in September 2020, Mason said the Academy’s large legal bills stem in part from commissions on lucrative broadcast contracts the organization has signed with CBS Corp. Mason said his efforts to cut down the Academy’s legal costs have been offset by the organization’s “diverse” legal needs, such as corporate, employment, and intellectual property law.

“There are so many different legal specialties that if we were to bring in a house counsel that person would have to be an expert in a lot of things,” Mason said. “We do have to outsource some of our needs. We’re trying to cut that back.”

Proskauer partners Charles Ortner and Sandra Crawshaw-Sparks, who Billboard noted have served as national legal counsel and deputy national legal counsel to the Academy, didn’t respond to requests for comment about the organization’s in-house hiring efforts. Nor did Proskauer itself.

The Academy has predominantly turned to Proskauer to handle the bulk of its caseload in U.S. federal courts within the last decade, according to Bloomberg Law data. Others firms representing the Academy in litigation during that period include Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, Dickinson Wright, and Greenberg Traurig.

Public records show the Academy has continued to rely on Greenberg Traurig. The firm was paid $80,000 through the first two quarters of this year to lobby on a range of legislative issues affecting the music industry, according to filings with the U.S. Senate. Todd Dupler, an attorney serving as the Academy’s managing director for advocacy and public policy in Washington, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Greenberg Traurig partner Robert Rosenbloum in Atlanta was deputy general counsel to the Academy, serving under Katz. Billboard reported that those two lawyers and their Proskauer brethren were listed in the program book for the 62nd annual Grammy Awards in January 2020 but were not listed as advisers for the 63rd Grammy Awards held his past March.

That gathering, part of which was held virtually, took place later than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bloomberg News reported this month that the Academy has adopted inclusion riders that will require producers to hire more diverse candidates for backstage and on-camera roles for the 2022 Grammy Awards.

The Academy, once formally known as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, officially named Mason its new leader on June 1.

Mason had already been serving in the CEO role on an unpaid interim basis since Dugan was dismissed in early 2020. Heidrick & Struggles International Inc., an executive recruitment firm that parted ways with its own legal chief in June, was retained by the Academy’s search committee to find a successor to Dugan.

(Clarifies legal role in second paragraph and adds detail on firms handling litigation for the Academy in 16th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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