Atlanta-based music industry attorney Joel A. Katz denies sexual harassment allegations by ousted Grammy chief

Atlanta-based entertainment attorney Joel A. Katz has worked with the Recording Academy for decades. Photo: Ben Rose for TJ Martell Foundation
Atlanta-based entertainment attorney Joel A. Katz has worked with the Recording Academy for decades. Photo: Ben Rose for TJ Martell Foundation

One of the most respected Atlanta-based attorneys in the music business is denying sexual harassment allegations that are part of a quick-growing scandal surrounding the Grammy Awards and its governing board, The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

Joel A. Katz, the renowned attorney who is the founding chairman of Greenberg Traurig’s global media and entertainment practice, has refuted claims from ousted Recording Academy chief Deborah Dugan.

In a 46-page statement filed Tuesday with the Equal Opportunity Commission in Los Angeles, Dugan, who the academy placed on "administrative leave" last week for unspecified misconduct, alleged that during a dinner meeting last year, Katz repeatedly commented on her appearance, called her "baby," invited her to travel on his private plane and attempted to kiss her.

Katz is also outside general counsel for the Recording Academy, which produces the Grammy Awards that will take place Sunday in Los Angeles.

Dugan’s complaint specifies that the incident occurred in May at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California, after she signed her employment contract as the new CEO and president of the Recording Academy, replacing longtime leader Neil Portnow.

Dugan’s filing also notes that during the dinner she told Katz, 75, that she wanted to hire an in-house attorney to “save the Academy millions of dollars.”

Howard Weitzman, an attorney for Katz, provided a statement that Katz “categorically and emphatically denies (Dugan’s) version of that evening.”

It continues, “This dinner meeting was 2½ months before Ms. Dugan started her job. Mr. Katz believed they had a productive and professional meeting in a restaurant where a number of members of the Board of Trustees of the Academy, and others, were dining. Ms. Dugan's claims are made, for the first time, 7 months after this dinner took place. Mr. Katz will cooperate in any and all investigations or lawsuits by telling the absolute and whole truth. Hopefully Ms. Dugan will do the same.”

Dugan states in her complaint that on Dec. 22, she emailed Shonda Grant, the human resources director at the Recording Academy, and described the “sexual harassment to which she was subjected by Joel Katz.”

Katz, a New York transplant who came to Atlanta more than 40 years ago and landed James Brown as his first client, has worked with the Recording Academy since the late 1980s.

In 2016, he negotiated a $600 million pact to keep the Grammy Awards and additional Recording Academy programming on CBS through 2026. He’s repeatedly present on Billboard’s annual “Power 100” list of music business dynamos.

Last year, ranked at No. 52, Katz was applauded for, among other achievements, setting a fundraising record for the T.J. Martell Foundation - $2 million in one night – the cancer research nonprofit which he chairs.

In 2008, Gov. Sonny Perdue renamed a portion of Northside Parkway as Joel Katz Parkway, and Katz's moniker is attached to the Kennesaw State Music and Entertainment Business program. In 2019, Billboard named it one of the top music business schools in the country.

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