BMI Accused of Multiple Instances of ‘Casual Racism’ by Employees, Musicians
Senior executives at BMI, one of the two major U.S. performing rights organizations, have been accused of “casual racism” and a “toxic” work environment by more than 15 current and former employees and musicians in an extensive report published by Rolling Stone.
At the center of the accusations is a Facebook post from last March by former VP of creative relations Doreen Ringer-Ross, who posted a picture of a crowded swimming pool in China on Facebook. “Couldn’t deal with it then,” Ringer-Ross wrote in the caption. “Now just makes me scream and recoil.”
Gingger Shankar, a composer who had worked with Ringer-Ross responded, “There is so much violence happening against Asian Americans right now. Please don’t post things like this.”
The employees and musicians Rolling Stone spoke with claim the action was “part of a larger pattern of racist statements and alleged racist behavior in recent years by multiple BMI executives.
A BMI representative told Rolling Stone that any “personnel matters” are treated as confidential and “it would have been inappropriate to make a companywide statement.”
The incident contradicts the historic stance on BMI, which was created in 1940 as an anti-monopololistic counter to ASCAP; ASCAP also had been accused of excluding minorities or less-genteel musicians, and over the years BMI has been seen as a stronghold of Black music.
However, the organization’s senior management is primarily white, which president Mike O’Neill acknowledged at a companywide town hall during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests and the related music industry self-examination in June. “One only has to look at me and my direct leadership team to see that we are not where we need to be,” he told employees, stressing the company’s efforts to diversify its staff. “Is it progress?” he asked. “Yes. Is it slow? Yes. Is it enough? No.”
“At BMI, we work every day to create a culture that embraces diversity of talent, ideas, and backgrounds, and celebrates a spirit of inclusivity, and we emphatically disagree that the company actively fosters a culture of intolerance,” a company representative said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “That said, no company is perfect, and we recognize there is always more work to be done. It is a key priority for us, and one that we will continue to address now and long into the future.”
In 2016, two BMI employees, Marlene Meraz and Sasha Pisterman, filed a lawsuit against the company and three BMI executives in the corporate communications and human resources departments, alleging that BMI “has produced a culture of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” which is “especially intense and harshly directed toward Latinos.” The suit was dismissed after being settled in 2019.
The article also references longtime BMI executive Barbara Cane as shocking a number of employees by “publicly expressing a preference for white doctors” in 2018.
A BMI representative says Cane’s comments led to an internal investigation of the executive, though the company declined to comment on any specific actions taken. “I made a very unfortunate statement several years ago that I have regretted deeply ever since,” Cane told Rolling Stone via a company representative. Last year, Cane was recognized by the National Music Publishers Association for lifetime service.