Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun Estate & Others Hit with Sexual Misconduct Suit by Former Employee, Dorothy Carvello
Just days after Atlantic Records and the estate of its late co-founder Ahmet Ertegun were hit with a sexual assault lawsuit filed by a former employee, the entities are now facing a second complaint detailing similar allegations of abuse –– only this one casts a wider net.
On Sunday (Dec. 4), Dorothy Carvello – a former A&R executive with the label and author of music-industry expose Anything for a Hit – filed suit against Atlantic, the label’s parent company Warner Music Group, Ertegun’s estate, former Atlantic co-CEO & co-chairman Doug Morris and former chairman and CEO Jason Flom. In the exhaustive complaint, Carvello alleges she was “horrifically sexually assaulted” by Ertegun and Morris and that Atlantic, WMG and Flom (then an Atlantic vp) enabled the abuse.
“During her employment at Atlantic Records from 1987 through 1990, Ms. Carvello 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 at Atlantic Records,” reads the complaint, which was filed in New York Supreme Court. “These injuries inflicted and abetted by Defendants include several sexual assaults and batteries, among other sexual misconduct, harassment, and discrimination, as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
The complaint goes on to claim that her treatment at the hands of Ertegun (who died in 2006) and Morris was enabled by the other defendants, who went about “creating, maintaining, and perpetuating the toxic workplace culture in which such sexual assault was permitted, thereby inflicting extensive emotional distress as well.”
Carvello’s lawsuit was made possible by New York’s Adult Survivors Act (ASA), which created a one-year period beginning Nov. 24, 2022, allowing alleged victims of abuse to take legal action against their perpetrators in the state even if the statute of limitations on their claims had expired. Jan Roeg, the former Atlantic talent scout who filed the sexual misconduct suit against Atlantic and Ertegun’s estate last week, took action under the same law. More music industry cases are also expected to be filed under the ASA over the next year.
The claims by Carvello are not new, though this is the first she’s sued over her allegations. In her memoir Anything for a Hit (now being adapted for a docuseries), the former executive detailed how, while working as Ertegun’s assistant and later as Atlantic’s first female A&R executive, she was allegedly frequently sexually abused and harassed by Ertegun.
The new lawsuit covers much of the same ground, charging that Ertegun, along with Morris and other Atlantic executives, “treated the company, its corporate headquarters, recording studios, and—even its corporate helicopter—as places to indulge their sexual desires. Employees like Ms. Carvello were the collateral damage of this toxic workplace culture.” It goes on to allege that when Ertegun and Morris’ abusive behavior was reported within the company, victims were “routinely paid settlements with corporate funds in exchange for signed non-disclosure agreements.”
Carvello, who was hired by Atlantic in April 1987 at age 24, first worked as Ertegun’s secretary but claims she also provided significant assistance to Morris during that time. After bringing Skid Row to Atlantic, Carvello was promoted to an A&R role.
Throughout her time there, Carvello claims that she and other female employees “were routinely exposed to Mr. Ertegun masturbating, including during work as he dictated correspondence to Ms. Carvello.” Among other claims, she also alleges Ertegun stored sex toys in her office cabinet without her consent; that Ertegun and other executives watched pornography in the office, including in meetings; and that Ertegun once directed Carvello to pick up used sex toys in his office and wash them.
The complaint goes on to allege a number of other abusive incidents involving Ertegun, including a claim that he “sexually attacked” her in a nightclub in Allentown, Pa., during a Skid Row concert and again during a subsequent helicopter ride back to New York City.
In the course of these alleged incidents, Carvello says that Ertegun “grabbed and squeezed” her breasts, “clawed at the bike shorts she was wearing under her skirt and pulled them down to access her underwear, scratched the left side of her abdomen and caused her to bleed, violently attempted to remove her underwear, bruised her, and exposed her vagina to all and sundry.” She further alleges that while begging for help from Flom and others present during the attacks, “they simply looked on and laughed.” Ertegun additionally claims that Ertegun once fractured her forearm after slamming it forcefully onto a table.
Carvello also claims harassment and abuse at the hands of Morris, who was running the label with Ertegun at the time. While working as his de facto secretary, she claims Morris would “forcibly kiss” her on the face and touch her inappropriately on a daily basis while “constantly” commenting on her body and appearance. She also claims that on multiple occasions, both Morris and Ertegun would suggest that Atlantic would pay for her to get breast augmentation surgery.
In addition to claims that Flom enabled Ertegun and Morris’ abuse, Carvello accuses the then-vp of harassing her during a meeting, saying he requested, in front of other executives, that she sit on his lap. According to the lawsuit, she says this incident led her to write a memo to Morris complaining about the “blatant sexual abuse” at Atlantic headquarters in September 1990 and asking him what he was planning to do about it. One day later, she alleges, she was fired.
Though she was subsequently hired at WMG imprint Giant Records, Carvello claims Morris “was not done retaliating” against her and had her fired from Giant as well. “Her loss of two consecutive jobs and the damage to her reputation was permanent,” the complaint reads. “But for Mr. Morris’ vengeful and retaliatory actions, Ms. Carvello would still be working in the music industry, and likely would be working under the WMG umbrella with [now-CEO and chairman Craig] Kallman,” who Carvello claims she was instrumental in bringing to the label in the early 1990s.
Later in the complaint, Carvello alleges that in February 1998, while unexpectedly seated next to Ertegun at Clive Davis’ annual “Grammy Eve” party at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the executive continued his pattern of abuse. During that incident, Carvello alleges Ertegun “shoved his hand between” her legs and “forcibly pulled and ripped at her underwear, injuring” her vagina. After allegedly fighting him off and threatening him “in full view of the dinner guests” at the party, Carvello claims Ertegun “sought her out again” at the same event and told her to meet him at his hotel, The Peninsula.
Carvello is suing on seven counts: battery constituting forcible touching (against the Ertegun estate, Morris, WMG and Atlantic); battery constituting sexual abuse (against the Ertegun estate, Morris, WMG and Atlantic); attempted battery constituting forcible touching (against Flom, WMG and Atlantic); battery constituting sexually motivated felony (against the Ertegun estate, WMG and Atlantic); and, against all defendants, criminal and civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is asking for monetary compensation as well as exemplary and punitive damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”
In a statement to Billboard, a Warner Music Group spokesperson said that the company and Atlantic “take allegations of misconduct very seriously,” while stressing that Carvello’s allegations stem from an era decades in the label’s past.
“These allegations date back 35 years, to before WMG was a standalone company,” the statement reads. “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.”
Representatives for Morris and Flom did not immediately respond to Billboard’s requests for comment. A representative for Ertegun’s estate could not be located for comment.
Over the past several years, Carvello has been a relentless voice calling for accountability in the music industry over what she alleges are longstanding patterns of abuse and attempts to silence victims. In October 2021, she revealed she had purchased shares in all three major record companies — UMG, WMG and Sony Music Entertainment’s parent company, Sony Inc. — with the intent of becoming an activist shareholder “to bring more transparency to the music industry,” she told Billboard at the time.
This past September, Carvello stepped up her efforts by sending a letter to board members at WMG requesting records relating to the company’s investigations into previously reported sexual misconduct claims and royalties accounting. She noted at the time that she intends to ask questions of the other labels as well, though there are differing regulations and laws that pertain to Universal and Sony, given that the former is a publicly-traded company in Amsterdam and Sony is incorporated in Japan; only WMG is a publicly-traded company in the U.S.
In the years since her ill-fated stints at Atlantic and Giant Records, Carvello has worked as an independent public relations consultant, including for some major label executives, though — responding to a perception by some label insiders that this work represents a conflict of interest given the scope of her activism — she claims she was paid out of the executives’ own pockets and not by the record labels themselves. In April, she founded the Face the Music Now Foundation, an organization “established to highlight sexual abuse and harassment in the music industry, demand accountability and change, and pave the way for survivors to tell their stories and reclaim their lives,” according to a press release.