Dorothy Carvello has launched a complaint against the label, its parent company Warner Music Group and former execs
Dorothy Carvello, a former employee of Atlantic Records, has filed a complaint against the label, its parent company Warner Music Group, former Atlantic president and Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris, former Atlantic chairman Jason Flom, and the estate of late Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, alleging that she was sexually abused and harassed by Ertegun and Morris, and sexually harassed by Flom, during her time at Atlantic Records. Carvello began at Atlantic as an administrative employee and later became the label’s first female A&R executive.
The lawsuit, filed in New York on 4 December, is the second filed against Ertegun and Atlantic; late last month former talent scout, Jan Roeg, filed a suit against Ertegun and the label over the alleged harassment and assault she faced while working for Atlantic through the 80s, 90s and 00s.
In the civil filing, seen by the Guardian, Carvello alleges that she was “subjected to persistent and pervasive nonconsensual and forcible sexual contact, degrading sexual innuendo and insults, and outrageous ‘tasks’ for the sexual gratification of executives” during her employment at Atlantic from 1987 through 1990.
She claimed that Atlantic executives treated company premises such as offices, recording studios and “even its corporate helicopter” as “places to indulge their sexual desires,” with victims of sexual assault “routinely paid settlements with corporate funds” in exchange for their silence. She alleges a “blatantly toxic office culture” that allowed sexual misconduct to occur with impunity.
Carvello – who is being represented by Camille Vasquez, counsel for Johnny Depp in his defamation case against Amber Heard – alleges that she and other female employees were “routinely” forced to watch Ertegun masturbate, including while he dictated correspondence to her and that Ertegun engaged in “forcible sexual contact” towards her while at work.
Carvello says that Ertegun “sexually attacked” her while watching the band Skid Row, whom she was attempting to sign, and that Flom and other unnamed employees “looked on and did nothing to stop” Ertegun. She also says that Ertegun “attacked” her again during the helicopter ride back from the Skid Row show. Carvello says that these attacks constituted Ertegun grabbing and squeezing her breasts, pulling down her bike shorts, scratching the left side of her abdomen, bruising her, and “exposing her vagina to all and sundry”.
Carvello says that she “begged for Mr Flom and others” unnamed in the claim to help, to which they allegedly laughed. Upon seeing her bike shorts during the helicopter ride home, she claims that Ertegun joked that Carvello “came prepared”. She also alleges an incident at a separate Skid Row concert in which Ertegun fractured her arm; when she spoke to Morris about it, she claims that he replied: “What do you want me to do about it?”
She further alleged that various unidentified executives routinely viewed pornography in the office and during meetings, with Morris once placing a pornographic magazine on her desk while seated next to her. She stated that one unnamed executive “decorated his office with sex toys”, that sex toys were stored in her office without her consent and that Ertegun had her pick up and wash “dirty sex toys that had been plainly used for sexual activity” in his office.
Carvello claimed that one unnamed executive would say “blow me” to her while walking past her desk every day, an unnamed senior vice-president showed her a photograph of his erect penis, and one executive, Tunc Erim, who died in 2012, would consistently grope her.
Carvello also alleges that Morris would kiss her “on her face every day” and routinely comment on her body “at times negatively with the intent to humiliate”.
Carvello says that she was fired from Atlantic in September 1990, the day after she first reported in writing the sexual abuse she had faced at Atlantic to Morris. That complaint was prompted by an incident in which Flom allegedly told Carvello “honey, come sit on my lap” during a meeting he had called; in her memo to Morris, Carvello said that she was “tired of all this juvenile behaviour by all the men at Atlantic Records”.
The next day, Ertegun supposedly called Carvello into his office, said that she had “questioned [Morris’] authority”, and terminated her employment.
After her termination by Atlantic, Carvello started working at Giant Records, another Warner Music Group subsidiary, but her employment was terminated shortly after. Carvello says in the claim “on information and belief” that Morris had used his influence to have her fired and blacklist her from the industry. Carvello’s lawsuit says that if not for Morris’ “vengeful and retaliatory actions”, she would still be working in the music industry.
In her suit, Carvello also alleges that Ertegun assaulted her at a Grammys party in February 1998, during which Ertegun “shoved his hand between [her] legs and forcibly pulled and ripped at her underwear, injuring her vagina”, which resulted in Ertegun and Carvello “physically hitting each other” at the event.
In an email to the Guardian, Rick Werder, lawyer for the Ertegun estate, refuted the claims made in Carvello’s lawsuit: “Mr Ertegun has been dead since 2006. Mrs Ertegun is 96 years old. Ms Carvello’s claim against Mrs Ertegun is meritless and will be vigorously defended on her behalf.”
In a statement provided to the Guardian, which is nearly identical to one issued in response to Roeg’s lawsuit, a spokesperson for Warner and Atlantic said: “Warner Music Group and Atlantic Records take allegations of misconduct very seriously. These allegations date back 35 years, to before WMG was a standalone company. We are speaking with people who were there at the time, taking into consideration that many key individuals are deceased or into their 80s and 90s. To ensure a safe, equitable, and inclusive working environment, we have a comprehensive Code of Conduct, and mandatory workplace training, to which all of our employees must adhere. We regularly evaluate how we can evolve our policies to ensure our work environment is free from discrimination and harassment.”
Carvello first spoke about her experiences of harassment and assault at Atlantic in her 2018 book Anything for a Hit: An A&R Woman’s Story of Surviving the Music Industry. In the book, she wrote that “every day gave me compelling reasons to get out”: “[Ertegun] created a world of extreme contradiction that could go from fun and exciting one moment to upsetting and abusive the next. When you’re new at a job, especially as a woman, you don’t know if you can speak up. If you let the first offence go, it becomes much harder to stop the second one from happening. I didn’t know where to draw the line, and I didn’t even know that a line should or could be drawn.”
Carvello’s claims fall outside the statute of limitations, but are being filed under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which has created a one-year period, beginning 24 November, for the revival of sexual abuse-related civil claims that have been time-barred. She is seeking monetary compensation from the Ertegun estate, Morris, Flom, Warner and Atlantic, as well as “exemplary and punitive damages”.
In September, Carvello used her Warner Music Group shareholder status to try to compel the company to make public any records it has of sexual misconduct allegations at the company, including records of internal investigations, non-disclosure agreements, and settlements paid. “I want to see what the actual investigations, if any, were against these claims,” Carvello said at the time.
“We take allegations of misconduct very seriously and enforce policies that respect and protect people that raise concerns,” WMG said in response to Carvello’s letter. “The allegations detailed in this letter have already been dealt with publicly, many of them were raised years or decades ago.”
The Guardian has contacted a representative for Flom for comment. Representatives for Morris could not be reached.