Gabrielle Union has filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH) against the producers of America’s Got Talent, citing harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
Union is named as the complainant with Universal Television, LLC, Fremantle Productions North America, Inc., Simon Cowell and Syco Entertainment Inc. are named as respondents in the DFEH complaint filed on Thursday.
“Union, an African American woman, was a judge on America’s Got Talent (“AGT”), but, in what has become a widely publicized matter, was terminated from the Cowell-created show after just one season,” the complaint’s introduction 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.”
The document goes on to cite examples of Union’s complaints against alleged discriminatory incidents such as a contestant performing in “blackface hands,” host Howie Mandel’s racist comments and comments about Union’s hair being “too wild.”
Union’s attorney Bryan Freedman provided the following statement to The Root:
“When Gabrielle 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.” Instead, NBC did not care enough to either promptly investigate Ms. Union’s complaints or even ask HR to get involved. Rather, NBC stood against her and directed its “outrage” at Ms. Union for whistleblowing about the racially offensive conduct she experienced while working for NBC on America’s Got Talent. In sharp contrast to NBC’s recent statement on race, what was truly an “outrage” was the fact that Paul Telegdy, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, actually threatened Ms. Union in an attempt to silence her from telling the truth about racist actions that took place on the show. There is no place for this type of racial bullying in the workplace, and it is going to take more than a Tweet from NBC to demonstrate that NBC intends to create an environment free from racism.”
Freedman particularly referenced NBC posting a solidarity tweet following the Black Lives Matter protests in support of George Floyd stating, “We stand with our black employees, colleagues, partners and creators in outrage at acts of racism. Black Lives Matter.”
Union has continued to be a champion and supporter of Black Lives Matter via her social media pages.
You can review the full complaint here.
This story is developing.
Update: 6/4/2020, 6:00 p.m. ET: The Root has reached out to representatives for NBCUniversal, Fremantle and Simon Cowell for comment on this matter.
Update: 6/4/2020, 6:15 p.m. ET:
Deadline has obtained a statement from NBCUniversal specifically addressing the claim that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy threatened and intimidated Union during the ongoing workplace investigation, noting: “The allegation that anyone involved in this process threatened Ms. Union is categorically untrue.”
“On or about February 4, 2020, Telegdy threatened Union through her agent and warned Union’s agent that Union had better cease from pursuing her claims of racism while filming AGT,” page 4 of the detailed DFEH complaint reads. “Union’s agent was shocked that the Chairman of NBC Entertainment was attempting to threaten and intimidate Union. Union’s agent could not recall another instance in his career when a senior executive at a network had threatened and intimidated an employee during an ongoing workplace investigation.”
NBCUniversal’s statement continues: “We took Ms. Union‘s concerns seriously, and engaged an outside investigator who found an overarching culture of diversity on the show. NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect.”
In turn, Union’s counsel, Freeman has responded to NBCUniversal’s statement noting:
“It’s very telling that NBC fails to substantively address the DFEH complaint that Ms. Union filed based on racial discrimination. Instead, NBC wants to try and play word games by saying that their Chairman, Paul Telegdy did not directly threaten Gabrielle Union. NBC of course ignores Paragraph 5 of the DFEH complaint which specifically states: “On or about February 4, 2020, Telegdy threatened Union through her agent and warned Union’s agent that Union had better cease from pursuing her claims of racism while filming AGT.” To hide behind the fact that Telegdy did not call her directly but her agent instead does not absolve him from his wrongful conduct. Should Mr. Telegdy wish to see phone records or call sheets from the date of his threat, we can make those available for the world to see. It is frankly sad but not surprising that, rather than addressing its own racial discrimination, NBC wants to try and avoid the systemic issues that permeate its company.”