Former Recording Academy chairman Neil Portnow sued for sexual assault

An unnamed accuser claims Portnow assaulted her in a hotel room in 2018; he has denied the allegations.

November 09, 2023
Former Recording Academy chairman Neil Portnow sued for sexual assault Neil Portnow. Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images  

Neil Portnow, the former chairman and chief executive of the Recording Academy, has been sued for sexual assault, The New York Times reports. The accusation was filed by Jane Doe in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, who accuses Portnow of drugging and raping her in June 2018. The Recording Academy is also listed as a defendant.

Though the accuser is unnamed, she is identified as an instrumentalist born outside of the United States who lives in New York City and was invited to join the Recording Academy after performing at Carnegie Hall. The woman claims she first met Portnow at an event for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards at the Paley Center for Media in January 2018. In June of that year, Portnow agreed to sit down for an interview for a publication she had started.

The two met at a hotel in New York City, where Portnow invited her to his room, the complaint says. Portnow allegedly offered her wine, which she drank, though Portnow did not consume any himself. She says that she “began to feel woozy" and asked Portnow about the wine, which he allegedly ignored. When she asked for a taxi to leave, Portnow said that there were none available.

The woman soon lost consciousness. She claims that she awoke several times throughout the night to Portnow sexually assaulting her including at least one instance of being "forcibly penetrated." According to the complaint, the woman left the next morning after Portnow departed to attend a meeting.

Portnow's accuser says that he ignored many attempts to contact him after the alleged incident. Months later, she emailed Recording Academy officials and claimed that Portnow had sexually harassed her. A police report was filed against Portnow, the Times reports, but the presiding District Attorney declined to press charges.

A representative for Portnow denied the allegations in a statement to the Times, calling them “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.” In a separate statement, the Recording Academy called the claims "without merit" and promised a "vigorous defense."

Portnow left his position at the Recording Academy in 2018. His departure followed controversial remarks made at an afterparty for the 2018 Grammys: when asked about the overrepresentation of male artists in that year's nominees, Portnow said that female artists should "step up" if they want to be recognized.

His replacement, Deborah Dugan, was fired in January 2020 after a misconduct allegation. Soon after she filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Complaint Commission alleging a culture of corruption and cover-ups at the Recording Academy. It was in this complaint that an allegation of sexual assault against Portnow first emerged, though specific details were not revealed until yesterday's Times report. Portnow denied the claim in a January 2020 statement.

The FADER has reached out to Jane Doe's attorneys for more information.


Former Recording Academy chairman Neil Portnow sued for sexual assault