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Former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow Sued for Allegedly Drugging & Raping a Woman in 2018

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Former Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow has been sued by an unnamed female musician who says he drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2018. Also named as a defendant is the Recording Academy itself, which the plaintiff accuses of enabling the assault through negligence.

In the lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court on Wednesday (Nov. 8), the woman — described in the complaint as “an internationally acclaimed musician, inventor, and former member of The Recording Academy” who performed at Carnegie Hall in 2015 — claims that while meeting with Portnow in his hotel room in June 2018 to conduct an interview with him for her magazine, she “began to feel woozy” after drinking a glass of wine he offered her.

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When the woman allegedly attempted to exit Portnow’s hotel room, she claims Portnow refused to help her leave “while begging her to stay” and attempting to kiss and massage her body. After allegedly losing consciousness, she says she would periodically wake to find Portnow sexually assaulting her in his hotel bed, forcing her hand to “manipulate” his penis and penetrating her vagina with both his penis and fingers.

The woman claims she awoke the next morning “woozy and confused” in the hotel bed as Portnow took a phone call. Once he finished the call, she claims Portnow “begged” her to stay in the hotel room “and under his control” but that she resisted. She says she gathered her things and made her escape after he left.

According to the complaint, the woman first met Portnow in January 2018 at the Paley Center for Media in New York, where he was speaking on a panel at an event for the 50th annual Grammy Awards. One week later, she says she received two VIP tickets to the Grammys and afterparty access from Portnow’s secretary, though she was unable to attend.

In February 2018, the woman says she emailed Portnow to thank him for the tickets, apologize for not being able to attend and tell him about her magazine. She says Portnow subsequently reached out to her in May 2018 telling her that he was traveling to New York City, at which point she told him she was interested in interviewing him for her magazine — leading to their alleged June 2018 meeting in his hotel room.

“In the immediate aftermath” of the alleged assault, the plaintiff says she tried reaching out to Portnow several times “to understand and gain clarity as to what had occurred,” but that Portnow ignored her and returned to Los Angeles around June 15, 2018.

The woman further claims that in October 2018, she emailed the Recording Academy to notify them of the assault and received an email response from the Academy’s chief people and culture officer “asking for a phone call to discuss the allegations.” She claims, however, that no one from the Academy ever reached out to interview her.

The following month, the woman says she received an email from Portnow’s legal representative that contained a private message from Portnow. According to a copy of the email which is included in the complaint, Portnow does not directly mention the woman’s assault allegation but instead expresses that he was “deeply saddened by your communications which unfortunately now require me to have an attorney involved.” Portnow also states that he had “always respected” the defendant and that “it is important that we hear each other with compassion and care.”

In December 2018, the woman says she filed a police report with the New York City Police Department naming Portnow as the man who sexually assaulted her.

In the aftermath of the alleged rape, the woman claims she “has suffered and will continue to suffer, great pain of mind and body, severe and permanent emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, physical, personal & psychological injuries.” She also says she has “incurred and will continue to incur expenses for psychological treatment, therapy, and counselling,” “has and/or will incur loss of income and/or loss of earning capacity in her musical career” and was “unable to maintain” her status as an Academy voting member.

The woman is suing Portnow for sexual battery; the Recording Academy for negligent hiring, supervision and retention; and both defendants for gender-motivated violence. She is demanding a trial by jury.

The Recording Academy sent the following statement to Billboard: “We continue to believe the claims to be without merit and intend to vigorously defend the Academy in this lawsuit.”

Portnow did not respond to Billboard‘s request for comment by press time.

The woman’s allegations were partially aired nearly four years ago in the explosive discrimination complaint filed by Deborah Dugan, who briefly replaced Portnow as Recording Academy president/CEO after he stepped down in August 2019. The following January, Dugan was placed on administrative leave, after which she filed a discrimination complaint against the Academy with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In that complaint, Dugan claimed that during a May 2019 meeting of the board prior to assuming Academy leadership, she was informed that sexual assault allegations had been lodged against Portnow by a foreign female recording artist who was also a member of the Academy. Dugan alleged that she was placed on leave after she refused to bring Portnow back as a consultant for the Grammys.

Shortly after Dugan filed her complaint, Portnow released a statement calling the rape allegations “ludicrous, and untrue. The suggestion that there was is disseminating a lie.” He added that following “an in-depth independent investigation” of the allegations, he was “completely exonerated.”

Dugan and the Recording Academy reached a confidential settlement in June 2021.

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