Executives at BMI, one of the three major U.S. performing rights organizations have been accused of fostering a racist and toxic work environment by multiple current and former employees and musicians, according to a detailed report published in Rolling Stone magazine.
A Facebook post by former VP Doreen Ringer-Ross showed a picture of a crowded swimming pool in China. "Couldn't deal with it then", Ringer-Ross wrote. "Now just makes me scream and recoil."
Employees and musicians claim the action was "part of a larger pattern of racist statements and alleged racist behavior in recent years by multiple BMI executives. This is in contrast to BMI's historical position as an alternative to ASCAP's historically minority-shy writer base.
A BMI spokesperson told Rolling Stone that "personnel matters" are treated as confidential and would be inappropriate to make a companywide statement. BMI CEO Mike O'Neill acknowledged the incidents in a memo to staff.
“Today Rolling Stone magazine published a negative and disturbing article about BMI, accusing the company of fostering an overall toxic environment and condoning casual racism, mainly in our LA office,”
“This was a very difficult story to learn about and to read, because I absolutely believe that this is not at the core of who we are. While I’m proud of the progress we have made in our commitment to becoming more inclusive and diverse, we still have work to do.
“The majority of the story focuses on the statements and social media posts of two BMI employees. Let me be very clear – when behavior violates our core values, it is addressed. I believe that when people make mistakes and take ownership for them, they deserve the opportunity to correct them. It is how people learn and grow. But when they continue to make those mistakes, we will hold them accountable, and that is exactly what happened here.
“While I know some of you may ask why these matters weren’t addressed in a more public manner at the time (something this story also raised), I would stress that we treat all personnel matters with complete confidentiality out of respect for our employees’ privacy. Just because there is no public announcement does not mean there was no disciplinary action taken. While we understand that may be frustrating for some, it remains our policy and that will not change.
“Please also know that we provided Rolling Stone with a number of important facts and statistics that were counter to the narrative of this story. They were not included, for reasons that I can’t say. What I can say is that I believe we are on the right path forward and that the changes we have already started will continue for the better. As you know we are currently recruiting for a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Responsibility Officer, reporting directly to me, one of many steps we have already taken. We will continue to address these issues head on and work hard to ensure a diverse and equitable culture. This has been and will continue to be my top priority.”
The article also references a lawsuit from 2016 brought by two BMI employees against the company and three BMI executives alleging a culture of discrimination, harassment and retaliation, which is "especially intense and harshly directed toward Latinos."
O'Neill disputed Rolling Stone's characterization of the lawsuit, which was settled in 2019.
“There is also reference to a lawsuit with two former employees,” he wrote. “We investigated this and found it to be completely without merit. We also shared with Rolling Stone, which they failed to include, that the lawsuit actually cut-and-pasted complaints made against other companies and non-BMI employees and then left those other names in the complaint against BMI. We absolutely disagreed with the allegations raised in the lawsuit, as well as the comments about it. As for why we settled? Litigation is expensive and a distraction from day-to-day work. While an unfortunate reality, sometimes it is more pragmatic to settle. In hindsight, perhaps we should have made a different decision.”
The Rolling Stone article also references BMI executive Barbara Cane as "publicly expressing a preference for white doctors" in 2018. A BMI representative explained Cane’s comments led to an internal investigation, though BMI declined to comment on any specific actions taken.
Cane explained through a BMI company representative “I made a very unfortunate statement several years ago that I have regretted deeply ever since,”
In 2019 Cane was recognized by the National Music Publishers Association for lifetime service.