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Controversial Record Exec Hired by Def

July 21, 1992|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Record industry veteran Mike Bone, who was sued last year for sexual harassment by a female assistant at Island Records, started work Monday as a sales and marketing executive at Def American Records, a Time Warner subsidiary.

Reaction to the hiring in the music industry was mixed.

Heidi Robinson, head of media relations at Burbank-based Def American, confirmed reports that several of the company's 12 female employees objected to working with Bone and voiced their opposition to management.

"I think people here were affected as much as anybody else in the industry by rumors in the media about Mike Bone's alleged history," Robinson said. "But (management) made sure that everybody here who had a problem with it had the opportunity to speak with Mike directly to get the truth out.

"The way it was dealt with was they were told that Mike was always just a phone call away and his door is always open and anybody is more than welcome to sit down and talk with him about it and get it all squared away."

Tammy Bruce, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, called Bone's hiring a "blatant" example of the lack of respect shown toward women in the recording industry.

"The message that Warner Bros. (Records, the records division of Times Warner) is sending to women is that they just don't care about us," Bruce said. "By allowing a person with this background to be hired, what they are telling women is that they think sex harassment is irrelevant and that we are useless and it doesn't matter how we feel. How quickly these guys forget. It's as if Anita Hill had never testified and sexual harassment wasn't a serious issue."

Bone, who settled the sexual harassment case out of court last November for a five-figure sum, declined to talk to The Times.

Def American founder Rick Rubin--whose label has been criticized by feminist groups for distributing allegedly misogynistic albums by such artists as Andrew Dice Clay and the Geto Boys--was also unavailable.

However, a spokesman for Warner Bros. Records defended Rubin's choice of executive.

"Rick has every right to staff Def American the way he sees fit," said Bob Merlis, vice president of publicity at the company. "Warner Bros. has no specific objections to any of his executive choices."

The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences' Heather Gifford applauded Def American's hiring of Bone.

"Over the years, I've established a close working relationship with Mike Bone through my association with the Recording Academy and I've never seen any indication of sexual harassment in his interaction with women," Gifford said.

"We were shocked by some of the accusations directed toward Mike. I believe it's unfair to conclude someone is guilty simply because they are named in a suit."

Mary Catherine Sneed, vice president of operations at the Atlanta, Ga.-based Summit Communications, who oversees 11 urban contemporary and album rock radio stations across the nation, echoed Gifford's assessment.

"As far as Mike Bone goes, he's been a close friend of mine for 15 years and in my opinion he's one of the brightest and level-headed gentlemanly executives in the industry," Sneed said.

According to several Island and other industry sources, Bone was accused of making sexual advances toward Lori Harris, an administrative assistant at the company, during an industry party in July, 1990. He allegedly fired her the next day for refusing to accede to his demands. Harris sued Bone and Island last July for sexual harassment and wrongful discharge under New York state human rights laws and accepted a settlement four months later.

Bone, who was president of three record companies in three years, left Island in December, 1990, a few months after the alleged incident of harassment, to become co-president of Mercury Records. Island officials said Bone's departure was unrelated to the alleged incident. Mercury and Island both are owned by PolyGram.

He was dismissed from Mercury on Nov. 1, two days before publication in The Times of an article about sexual harassment. A PolyGram spokeswoman said that the timing of his exit was "an unfortunate coincidence" and had nothing to do with allegations of sexual harassment.

Female employees at other record labels, most of whom did not want to be identified, expressed concern about Bone's return as an industry executive. Several also complained about Def American's association with independent promotion man Marko Babineau, who was hired to promote the label's current No. 1 single "Baby Got Back" by Seattle rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Penny Muck, the former Geffen Records secretary who sued Babineau for alleged sexual harassment last year during his tenure as a label chief at DGC Records, said: "I have the deepest respect for Def American, but I feel that they could have used better judgment in their selection." Muck's harassment case is pending in Santa Monica Superior Court and she still works in the music business.

"I don't know the particular details of Mr. Bone's sex harassment case, but if the charges that were brought against him are true then this is yet another dark day for women in the workplace."

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