Former Grammys Boss Neil Portnow Accused of Drugging, Raping Female Artist


Neil Portnow, the former CEO of the Recording Academy, was sued in New York on Wednesday by a woman who says he drugged and raped her in 2018.

The accuser goes unnamed in the lawsuit, obtained by The Daily Beast, but is described as an “internationally acclaimed musician, inventor, and former member of The Recording Academy.” In addition to accusing Portnow of sexual assault, she also accuses the Recording Academy—the nonprofit group behind the Grammys—of “aid[ing] and abet[ing] Portnow’s conduct to protect their reputations and silence Plaintiff’s and other women in the music industry who have stood up and spoken up.”

The Recording Academy said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Wednesday: “We continue to believe the claims to be without merit and intend to vigorously defend the Academy in this lawsuit.”

In the suit, the anonymous accuser says she met Portnow in January 2018 at a Recording Academy event. That June, she says she asked the then-CEO if she could interview him for a magazine article, and he invited her to meet him at his Manhattan hotel to conduct the interview. There, Portnow allegedly offered her wine, but did not drink any himself.

Shortly after drinking the wine, the accuser’s lawsuit claims, she “began to feel woozy and had trouble focusing her eyes. … Her legs were shaking, and she was unable to control her body.” Portnow allegedly “beg[ged] her to stay” and then “attempted to kiss and massage Plaintiff’s body.” The woman alleges in her suit that she tried to push Portnow away, and eventually lost consciousness.

“On separate occasions throughout the night,” the suit states, “Plaintiff regained consciousness momentarily. Each time, Plaintiff was in Portnow’s hotel bed. Each time, Portnow was sexually assaulting Plaintiff. One time when Plaintiff regained consciousness, she awoke to Portnow forcing Plaintiff’s hand to manipulate his penis, telling her that it was ‘okay.’ Portnow then forcibly penetrated Plaintiff’s vagina with his penis.”

According to the suit, the woman woke up the next day in Portnow’s bed and “escaped” his hotel room after he left to take a meeting.

The woman later allegedly tried to contact Portnow several times to ask what had happened that night, but never heard back from him. That October, she says she emailed the Recording Academy to notify them of the alleged sexual assault, but she was never interviewed as part of an investigation by the Recording Academy. Her suit accuses the academy of negligence, and includes redacted correspondence she had with the organization in 2018 regarding her accusations against Portnow.

The woman filed a police report in December 2018 that named Portnow, according to the suit. Her accusations were first made public in January 2020, in a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In that complaint, Deborah Dugan—who replaced Portnow as Recording Academy CEO after he stepped down in 2019—said that Portnow “allegedly raped a female recording artist, which was, upon information and belief, the real reason his contract was not renewed.”

At the time, Portnow responded to the complaint by saying: “The allegations of rape are ludicrous, and untrue. The suggestion that there was is disseminating a lie. The baseless complaint about my conduct referenced in the EEOC filing was immediately brought to the attention of the Board of Director’s Executive Committee. An in-depth independent investigation by experienced and highly regarded lawyers was conducted and I was completely exonerated. There was no basis for the allegations and once again I deny them unequivocally.”

The lawsuit on Wednesday claims that as a result of the alleged sexual assault, the accuser has “suffered severe emotional, physical and psychological distress, including shame, guilt, economic loss of earning capacity, and emotional loss.”

The lawsuit also cites Portnow’s infamous “step up” comments from 2018 regarding female artists. The then-president and CEO came under fire after he was asked about the lack of female artist representation at that year’s Grammy Awards and told a reporter that women “need to step up because I think they would be welcome.” His statement incited ire from musicians like Halsey and Alicia Keys, and he later walked back his comments.

Portnow stepped down as Recording Academy CEO in July 2019, after 17 years. His departure came after he was accused by a high-ranking former employee of steering money away from the Grammys’ charity, MusiCares. The academy denied the accusations. He was replaced by Dugan, who served only five months in the post before a dramatic ouster of her own.

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