Hipgnosis Exec Kenny MacPherson Placed On Leave After Lawsuit Claims Sexual Assault, Harassment


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Kenny MacPherson, a long-time music publishing executive, has been placed on a leave of absence from his job at Hipgnosis Songs Fund, the company tells Billboard, following the filing of a lawsuit that claims he sexually assaulted a staffer in 2005 while he ran another company.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles court, Sara Lewis alleges that she “endured an onslaught of unwanted sexual advances” from MacPherson while she worked as an A&R at Chrysalis Music during the mid-2000s, when he served as the company’s president.

Lewis claims the harassment eventually escalated into “a traumatic sexual assault” during a 2005 business trip, and that she was then “blacklisted” when she reported the abuse.

“The entertainment industry is rife with tales of the abuse of aspiring entrepreneurial women at the hands of older, powerful executives,” Lewis’ lawyers write. “Women have been historically punished for standing up for themselves, refuting sexual advances, or speaking out against their perpetrators. Sara is unwilling to perpetuate that stigma. This lawsuit is about reclaiming agency for survivors of sexual violence and bringing to justice those high powered perpetrators who have historically avoided culpability.”

In a statement to Billboard on Thursday (Oct. 5), Hipgnosis — which was not named in the lawsuit nor accused of any wrongdoing — said it had placed MacPherson from his role as the CEO of the company’s publishing unit pending an investigation.

“Hipgnosis Songs Fund has a policy of zero-tolerance to harassment or abuse,” a spokesperson for the company said. “While the company is not a defendant to these historic allegations which relate to a period 15 years before Hipgnosis was founded, Kenny MacPherson was placed on leave of absence from Hipgnosis Songs Group as soon as it became aware of the allegations. Our rigorous procedures for dealing with such matters have commenced.”

MacPherson did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.

In addition to MacPherson, the lawsuit also named as a defendant BMG Rights Management, which acquired Chrysalis in 2010. Lewis claims that BMG, as the legal successor to her employer, is “directly liable” for the company’s failure to stop abuse by its president. In a statement to Billboard on Thursday, BMG stressed that it did not acquire Chrysalis until “years after the alleged events had taken place.”

“BMG stands solidly against all forms of discrimination, harassment, and abuse and we are shocked and dismayed by the allegations made by Sara Lewis,” the company said.

After more than a decade at Warner/Chappell in the 1990s, MacPherson jumped in 2001 to Chrysalis, where he served as president during a stretch in which the company signed OutKast, TV on the Radio, St. Vincent, Thom Yorke and others. When BMG bought Chrysalis in 2010, MacPherson and others founded Big Deal Music, which eventually built up a publishing catalog of more than 4,400 songs by Shawn Mendes, One Direction and others. Then in 2020, when Hipgnosis acquired Big Deal, McPherson signed a five-year contract to serve as the CEO of Hipgnosis Songs Group, the company’s publishing unit.

In her complaint — which contains graphic details of alleged harassment and assault — Lewis claims she was hired by Chrysalis in 2002 to “what she thought was her dream job,” eventually moving into a role as an A&R by 2003. But she says the dream “became a literal nightmare” as she was subjected to “relentless” harassment and “grooming” by MacPherson.

“Each of the repeated advances were unwanted and unwelcome,” her lawyers write. “But Sara had nowhere to turn. As president of Chrysalis, MacPherson knew all and controlled all. As a professional and aspiring executive, Sara put her head down, endured the harassment, and continued to pursue her dream career in the music industry.”

Lewis claims the harassment escalated into outright assault during a 2005 trip to Chicago to visit a newly-signed artist. After “plying her with alcohol” during a concert, she says he then “insisted that he and Sara have another drink in Sara’s hotel room” and eventually “professed his love” to her. When she says she “reiterated that she did not share these feelings,” he then “forced himself” on her.

“MacPherson attempted to penetrate Sara, but was unable to maintain an erection,” her lawyers wrote in Wednesday’s complaint. “MacPherson then forcibly performed oral sex on Sara as she laid motionless, repeatedly crying and saying ‘no,’ and pleading for MacPherson to stop. Eventually, apparently frustrated with Sara’s lack of participation and his own inability to perform, MacPherson relented and stopped his sexual assault.”

Lewis says she eventually “mustered the courage to report MacPherson’s abuse,” but her efforts were met only with silence and retaliation. Her direct supervisor did nothing, she says, and MacPherson began to shut her out of important portions of her job. When she tried to look for other jobs, she says she learned she had been “blacklisted” by MacPherson and Chrysalis. Eventually, she says she was “forced to leave the music industry entirely.”

“MacPherson and Chrysalis created an environment wherein Sara was without recourse,” her lawyers wrote. “She either acquiesced to MacPherson’s relentless and unwanted sexual advances, or faced a career-ending fate. Sara will no longer remain silent and now brings this action to seek redress for the years of sexual harassment and abuse she suffered at the hands of MacPherson, which was enabled and covered up by Chrysalis.”

In technical terms, Lewis is accusing BMG and/or MacPherson of 12 different counts of civil wrongdoing, including sexual battery, gender violence, and a slew of violations of California labor and employment laws covering sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

Stories about sexual assault allegations can be traumatizing for survivors of sexual assault. If you or anyone you know needs support, you can reach out to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). The organization provides free, confidential support to sexual assault victims. Call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) or visit the anti-sexual violence organization’s website for more information.

Read the full legal documents here:

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