Kenny MacPherson, CEO of Hipgnosis Songs Group, faces allegations of sexual battery and harassment in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles by a woman who previously worked with him at the music publishing company Chrysalis.
Sara Lewis, who worked with MacPherson when he was president of the music publishing shingle Chrysalis, filed the suit on Oct. 4, listing MacPherson and BMG as defendants. She worked with MacPherson in the mid-2000s as an A&R, claiming that his actions under his leadership drove her out of the industry.
In the suit, she alleges that she “endured an onslaught of unwanted sexual advances by MacPherson, who unabashedly used his power and authority to exact Sara’s compliance and submission.” Lewis claims that MacPherson spent years grooming and harassing her, engaging in non-consensual touching, groping and traumatic sexual assault. The suit details how the harassment was well-known among colleagues and executives, but that they scolded her behind her back and protected MacPherson from accountability.
At the time, MacPherson was president and senior executive at Chrysalis Music Division North America, amassing clients like OutKast and Thom Yorke. Chrysalis merged with BMG in December 2012. In a statement to Variety, BMG said, “BMG stands solidly against all forms of discrimination, harassment, and abuse and we are shocked and dismayed by the allegations made by Sara Lewis. As a point of fact, BMG did not exist until October 1, 2008, years after the alleged events had occurred, and did not acquire Chrysalis until years later in 2011.”
Hipgnosis, which owns catalog rights for artists like Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake and Nile Rodgers, confirmed MacPherson was placed on a leave of absence on Tuesday morning with the following statement: “Hipgnosis Songs Fund has a policy of zero-tolerance to harassment or abuse. While these historic allegations relate to a period 15 years before Hipgnosis was founded, Kenny MacPherson was placed on leave of absence from Hipgnosis Songs Group as soon as it became aware of the allegations. Our rigorous procedures for dealing with such matters have commenced.”
In a statement issued to Rolling Stone, Macpherson’s attorney said they “vehemently deny all allegations made against Mr. MacPherson in Ms. Lewis’ unverified complaint filed.”
The suit goes into alleged details of Lewis’ experience working at Chrysalis. The company hired her around July 2002, with MacPherson joining shortly after. Over the next year, he began showing more attention to Lewis, eventually transferring her from the company’s film and TV group to its A&R division in an office adjacent to MacPherson.
Lewis claims that their interactions “devolved from mentorship to inappropriate behavior” over time. She says that he began by “physically invading Sara’s personal space” by touching her and leaning suggestively over her desk. She recounts a 2004 scouting trip to Vancouver to find potential artists to sign. After seeing a concert, she states he invited himself back to her hotel room where he touched her thigh and confessed his love for her. She rebuffed his advances, and he apparently left the room.
From there, Lewis alleges that MacPherson’s actions escalated. According to the suit, he would routinely corner her in the office, and attempt to kiss and physically grope her during work lunches and dinners. Over the following year, she claims that he demanded access to her at all hours of the day, telling her personal details about his loveless marriage and trying to initiate phone sex.
She recalls how the behavior inflicted emotional distress around this time, causing her anxiety and depression. Soon after, MacPherson promoted her to director of A&R, a move that she says was used to bring her closer to him. The suit states that the behavior was known by employees at Chrysalis, who referred to her and MacPherson as “Bill and Monica” behind her back and spread rumors that they were having an affair.
She goes into detail about another 2005 trip to meet with an artist in Chicago. She states that MacPherson forced himself into the plans, joining her to see the artist and inviting himself up to her hotel room under the guise of work. In the room, she recalls how MacPherson once again professed his love for her and blamed his failing marriage on her. She said she told him she did not share the same feelings, and he allegedly performed forcible oral sex on her while she repeatedly said “no.”
Upon return from the trip, the harassment continued with non-consensual touching in and out of the office, according to the complaint. The suit describes another instance where MacPherson came to her house unannounced and forcibly kissed her. After attending SXSW in 2007, she tried to report his behavior to her direct supervisor Jamie Cerreta, as Chrysalis did not have a Human Resources department and did not have policies in place to address sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, the suit alleges. Lewis claims that Cerreta did not take action on the allegations and that Chrysalis was attempting to “sweep it under the rug.”
After complaining to Cerreta, Lewis says that the company began to stonewall her. She states that MacPherson would shut her out of meetings and ignore communication, while other departments would do the same. She began to explore opportunities elsewhere in the music industry, but claims that MacPherson continued to retaliate against her by branding her as “un-hirable.” She took a large demotion and pay cut to work for a smaller company, and ultimately left the industry, the suit alleges.
Lewis is suing for sexual battery, sexual harassment, negligent hiring and wrongful termination, among other claims. The suit was filed under the California Sexual Abuse and Cover-Up Accountability Act, a 2022 law that opens a one-year window to file lawsuits that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations.