Actress and former “America’s Got Talent” judge Gabrielle Union filed a discrimination complaint last Thursday against AGT production companies Fremantle Productions North America and Syco Entertainment, judge and creator Simon Cowell, and Universal Television. Within the complaint, Union addresses that she was threatened by an NBC executive when she attempted to report issues of racism and sexism on set.
What We Know:
- Gabrielle Union appeared on season 14 of America’s Got Talent with co-judges Julianne Hough, Howie Mandell, and Simon Cowell. The discrimination complaint, which typically acts as a precursor for a lawsuit, comes more than six months after Union left the popular talent competition show, amid claims that the environment was “toxic”.
- The complaint, filed Thursday, comes one day after NBC released a statement supporting #BlackLivesMatter, saying, “We stand with our Black employees, colleagues, partners, and creators in outrage at acts of racism”. Union’s attorney, Bryan Freedman, said NBC’s statement directly contradicts Union’s experience and that when “Union informed NBC of racially offensive conduct during the taping of ‘America’s Got Talent’, NBC did not ‘stand’ with her in ‘outrage at acts of racism” as they did not promptly investigate her claims or allow HR to get involved.
— NBC Entertainment (@nbc) June 1, 2020
- Within the complaint, filed with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Union alleges in February she was threatened by NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy in an attempt to prevent her from speaking up. The claim says that NBC and Telegdy directed outrage at her for whistleblowing about the racist actions and conduct that she witnessed and experience while working for NBC on ‘America’s Got Talent’. She also alleges that is the reason behind her contract not being renewed.
- The opening claim of the discrimination complaint reads, “sadly, what led to Union’s termination was her refusal to remain silent in the face of a toxic culture at AGT that included racist jokes, racist performances, sexual orientation discrimination, and excessive focus on female judges’ appearances, including race-related comments”. This contradicts a statement previously released by NBC that Union’s contract was not renewed because they wanted to “refresh” the judging panel.
- The discrimination complaint includes extensive and explosive reports of the culture of toxicity at NBC and various incidents of racial insensitivity and racially offensive comments. Union describes multiple instances where she reported racist jokes or comments to producers and no action was taken.
- Union alleges that she was often criticized for her hair being “too wild”, an “unsolicited opinion” that was not production-based but was later interpreted to mean that her hairstyles and looks were “too Black” for the AGT audience.
- Union claims that representation of blackface from contestants were approved by production and allowed on stage to perform and compete in the show.
- The legal filing also goes on to cite numerous alleged incidents of racist comments and jokes made by judge Howie Mandel and guest judge Jay Leno in which Union reported the incidents and urged for producers to take action and hold both men accountable, but the incidents were ignored.
- In the wake of Union’s departure from the show and before an official complaint was filed, NBC, Fremantle, and Syco announced an investigation into the show’s workplace environment conducted by an outside firm. The investigation found Union’s claims to be unfounded and that neither gender nor race played a role in the decision to not renew her contract.
- The discrimination claim alleges that NBC made changes to the findings of the investigation before presenting them to her on March 4. It goes in-depth to say “the investigator acknowledged, among other things, that she had already made changes to her preliminary findings at the direction of NBC and Fremantle” and therefore should not be accepted as a proper investigation.
- A statement released by representatives of NBC in response to the claim reads, “the allegation that anyone involved in this process threatened Ms. Union is categorically untrue. NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect.” NBC, Fremantle, and Syco issued a joint statement in response to the discrimination complaint Thursday, saying “while the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved.” No details of these new processes are currently available.
- Union has stayed strong in her allegations, saying, “what is the point of having a seat at the table and protecting your privilege when you’re not doing s— to help other people?” Union continues to speak out against racism and discrimination across her social media, not just at NBC but in our society as a whole.
The accuracy!!!! Whew… https://t.co/x1xudJWpCw
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) June 6, 2020
“At the end of all this, my goal is real change — and not just on this show but for the larger parent company. It starts from the top down” Gabrielle Union told Variety last week. Adding, “my goal is to create the happiest, most high-functioning, inclusive, protected, and healthy example of a workplace.”