Neil Portnow, the former head of the Grammy Awards, has been accused in a lawsuit of raping a woman in 2018 in New York. According to CNN, the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in Manhattan. It accuses Mr Portnow, who stepped down as chief executive of the Recording Academy in 2019, of sexual battery, and accuses the academy – the non-profit group behind Grammys – of negligence. The woman has not been identified in the suit but it describes her as an instrumentalist from outside the United States who once performed at Carnegie Hall.
According to the outlet, the woman alleges that Mr Portnow sexually assaulted her after she became “disoriented and incapacitated,” and ultimately unconscious, after drinking a glass of wine that Mr Portnow had given her. She also says that she was concerned over his power in the industry, but that months later, gave her account to Academy officials and was ignored. The suit claims that the woman even filed a police report against Mr Portnow, but law enforcement authorities at the time declined to prosecute.
The woman is suing Mr Portnow for alleged sexual battery and gender-motivated violence, and the Recording Academy for negligent hiring, supervision and retention. She was 37 at the time of the alleged assault. Her lawsuit states that she has since suffered “severe emotional, physical and psychological distress, including shame, guilt, economic loss of earning capacity, and emotional loss.”
In response to the case, the Recording Academy has vowed to “vigorously defend the Academy in this lawsuit”. “We continue to believe the claims to be without merit,” the organisation said, as per AFP.
A representative for Mr Portnow also denied the allegations. Speaking to CNN, they described them as “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”.
Mr Portnow served as the president and then president and CEO of the Recording Academy from 2002 to when he stepped down in 2019. A year before this, he received public backlash and calls for resignation after stating female artists need to “step up” in an interview with Variety, responding to a question about the lack of female representation at that year’s Grammy Awards ceremony.
Mr Portnow addressed “women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level,” saying they need “to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us – us as an industry – to make the welcome mat very obvious…”
However, at the time, he released a statement saying that his comment was “taken out of context”.