Dorothy Carvello still remembers the day she was fired from her dream job at Atlantic Records for playing by the rules.
It was September 1990 and she had just written a note to her boss, reporting a possible human resources violation, according to a lawsuit Carvello filed in New York state court against the label last week. Carvello claimed his supervisor told him, “Honey, come sit on my lap,” during a work meeting in front of other male executives, as a condition for joining the meeting, according to the lawsuit. She said in the court filing that she refused, but the supervisor insisted, prompting laughter in the room.
Carvello left the meeting and wrote the memo, also calling it “juvenile behavior by all the men at Atlantic Records”. She said she hoped the report would lead to punishment for the supervisor and change in the company.
Instead, the next day, Carvello, a former assistant who rose through the ranks to become the label’s first female Artists and Repertoire Executive, said in court papers that she learned she had lost her job. .
“It was a dream job in a creative field, and a very hard job to get,” Carvello said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week. “And to be treated as less than a human being was a very shocking thing to me.”
The alleged incident was just the latest in a long line of abuse cases, she said in the lawsuit. Carvello also claimed in the lawsuit that after being hired in 1987, she suffered sexual harassment and assault from company executives. That included Ahmet Ertegun, the late Atlantic co-founder and longtime chief executive, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also names the Ertegun Estate and Warner Music Group, owner of Atlantic Records, as defendants.
This is the second lawsuit filed against Ertegun’s estate and the music label in as many weeks. Last week, Jan Roeg, a former music executive, alleged a similar pattern of sexual assault by the late executive and accused Atlantic of fostering a toxic work culture and covering up the abuse in a lawsuit against the label and the estate. .
Carvello told the LA Times that she hopes her trial will ensure no one else has to endure what she went through.
“What I advocate, and one of the reasons I do, is that we need a safe environment where male and female artists or employees can file a complaint and not be held against them” , Carvello said. “People who complain shouldn’t be kicked out.”
In a statement, Warner Music Group said its company had changed since the time of the alleged incidents and takes “allegations of misconduct very seriously”, and assures that there are policies in place to ensure a safe working environment. safe, like a code of conduct. and mandatory on-the-job training.
“These allegations go back almost 40 years, before WMG was a stand-alone company. We are speaking with people who were there at the time, taking into account that many key people are deceased or in their 80s and 90s,” the music company told the LA Times through a spokesperson.
Ertegun, widely credited with shaping the sound of American pop music for decades, died in 2006 at the age of 83.
But Doug Morris and Jason Flom – both named in Carvello’s lawsuit as defendants – are still alive and remain influential in the music industry.
The lawsuit accuses label executives of enabling Ertegun’s misconduct and also makes allegations against Flom and Morris. Carvello claimed in the lawsuit that it was Flom who allegedly asked Carvello to sit on his lap. And Morris allegedly had Carvello fired for speaking out, according to the lawsuit.
Morris and Flom went on to illustrious careers: Morris ran all three major labels – Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment – and he founded the video streaming service Vevo. Flom became president of Atlantic Records and Virgin Records, founded Lava Records, and is credited with launching the careers of pop stars such as Katy Perry and Lorde.
Flom is also an influential advocate for criminal justice reform and is a founding board member of the Innocence Project. He serves on the board of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Legal Action Center, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, the NYU Prison Education Program and other groups.
Organizations affiliated with Flom did not respond to requests for comment.
Flom did not respond to multiple requests for comment. And Morris could not be reached for comment.
Carvello told the LA Times that she sees sexual assault in the music industry as a persistent and ongoing problem.
After first going public with the assault allegations in her 2018 book, ‘Anything for a Hit,’ Carvello said many women in the music industry shared their experiences of sexual assault with her. .
“The general theme is that women are very afraid to come forward for fear of reprisal,” she said. “I recently had a really, really big artist come forward and file a complaint, but they’re scared, and I understand that and they have my empathy.”
Throughout her early career, Carvello has stated that she held entry-level, low-paying jobs in the music industry. The first in her family to attend college, Carvello said she was looking for a job in music with more stable pay and benefits, which she found at Atlantic Records.
After she was hired in 1987 as an assistant to Morris and Ertegun, the lawsuit alleges that Ertegun regularly grabbed her breasts and exposed himself to her and masturbated in front of her while dictating correspondence to her.
At the start of each day, Morris would lean towards Carvello, touch his shoulders and kiss him without his consent, according to the complaint. The suit also said that the pair would regularly comment on her breasts and legs.
Multiple incidents in which Ertegun grabbed Carvello’s genitals left her bruised and cut, according to the lawsuit. During another, Ertegun reportedly broke Carvello’s arm after slamming him against a table. The lawsuit said that after Carvello reported the incident to Morris, he responded by saying, “What do you want me to do about it?”
The complaint also alleged that both Ertegun and Morris used company funds to pay settlements to people who accused the couple of sexual assault in exchange for signing nondisclosure agreements that promised silence.
Earlier this year, Carvello founded Face the Music Now Foundation, which aims to lift and stop the use of nondisclosure agreements “that silence survivors and allow abusers to continue their predatory behavior.”
In 2019, California enacted a law, known as the #MeToo law, that prohibited non-disclosure provisions in settlements involving allegations of sexual assault, harassment, or gender discrimination. And last week, President Joe Biden signed a similar ban at the federal level.
Carvello says she understands why many survivors choose to remain silent. After speaking, she said she was struggling to find work in the industry. Although she was always able to work for major labels such as RCA and Columbia, she never regained the same level of influence she had at Atlantic where she worked as a talent scout to find artists to sign. for the label.
“I had to settle for lower-paying jobs, small businesses, and really stay in the background,” Carvello said. “So yes, it was very difficult.”
Carvello said she hopes her lawsuit will lead to changes in the industry, such as safer ways for people to report incidents of abuse without fear of retaliation, such as having their careers derailed.
“It’s very difficult to file these kinds of sexual assault complaints, it’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating,” Carvello said.
“It’s hard enough for anyone, and then having the whole industry come down on you like a ton of bricks as a troublemaker, or you’re not going with the program, it shouldn’t be like that.”