Former Grammys chief Neil Portnow accused of rape in new lawsuit

FILE - This Feb. 10, 2019 file photo shows then President and CEO of The Recording Academy Neil Portnow at the 61st annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Portnow says a rape allegation against him aired in a complaint against the Recording Academy by his successor is "false and outrageous." Portnow released a statement saying the academy during his tenure had conducted a thorough and independent investigation and he was "completely exonerated." (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
Neil Portnow in 2019. (Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press)

A woman has sued former Grammy chief Neil Portnow, accusing him of drugging and raping her in a New York hotel room in June 2018.

The woman, who is not named in the lawsuit, is described as a musician who once performed at Carnegie Hall and was a former voting member of the Recording Academy, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Grammys. In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, she says she met Portnow in January 2018 at an event for the 60th Grammy Awards, and later asked in May to interview him for her magazine while she was in New York.

According to the lawsuit, Portnow, 75, invited her to his hotel room for the interview, where he gave her a toothbrush/toothpaste set and Grammy merchandise, along with a drink that left her "disoriented and incapacitated." She accused Portnow of raping her while she was in and out of consciousness.

The musician says that she emailed the Recording Academy in 2018 to report the assault, but the Academy never interviewed her about the allegations. The suit accuses the Recording Academy of negligent hiring, supervision and retention.

A spokesperson for Portnow claimed the allegations are "completely false."

“The claims are the product of the Plaintiff’s imagination and undoubtedly motivated by Mr. Portnow’s refusal to comply with the Plaintiff’s outrageous demands for money and assistance in obtaining a residence visa for her," said the spokesperson. "When the first attempt was made to extract money and other benefits ... Mr. Portnow, who was at that time President/CEO of the Recording Academy, immediately enlisted the Academy’s HR Department to review the nonsensical text messages and emails that he made immediately available. An outside independent investigation led by top-tier lawyers, reviewed all relevant texts, emails, interviewed witnesses, and found absolutely no proof to support any of the allegations."

In a statement, the Recording Academy told The Times: “We continue to believe the claims to be without merit and intend to vigorously defend the Academy in this lawsuit."

The New York Times first reported the lawsuit.

The end of Portnow's term as CEO of the Recording Academy was marred with controversy, most notably when he said in January 2018 that female artists needed to "step up" if they wanted to receive more Grammy nominations and awards. Portnow, who was named CEO in 2002, announced in May 2018 that he would step down the following year, when his contract was set to expire.

“It wasn’t the most fun year in my life last year,” Portnow told The Times at the end of 2018. “But these kinds of events can be beneficial if you take them as teaching moments."

Allegations of the sexual assault were first aired in 2020, in a discrimination complaint filed against the Recording Academy by Deborah Dugan, who had been hired to succeed Portnow but was abruptly fired less than a year into her term. Dugan also claimed that despite knowing about the 2018 assault, the Recording Academy asked her to hire Portnow back on as a consultant and pay him $750,000, which she declined.

Nominations for the 66th Grammy Awards, scheduled for Feb. 4, will be announced on Friday.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.