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Gabrielle Union has asked California authorities to examine racism on the set of America’s Got Talent, alleging in a complaint filed on Thursday that the Simon Cowell-created competition show terminated her after she refused to remain silent over what she describes as the show’s “toxic culture.”
The new complaint to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing comes months after Union’s exit from the program and a week after the culmination of a joint investigation by NBC, producers Fremantle and Simon Cowell’s Syco. That investigation largely gave the production a pass from her allegations. It reported no derogatory remarks about Union’s appearance plus stated that race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time. What’s more, NBC, Fremantle and Syco patted itself on the back for having “demonstrated an overall culture of diversity.”
In the midst of nationwide protests over the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement, coming in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25, Union has a very different story to tell.
Her full complaint (read here) lays out “racist jokes, racist performances, sexual orientation discrimination, and excessive focus on female judges’ appearances,” among other things.
“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,'” said her attorney Bryan Freedman in a reference to the network’s recent attempt to appear socially conscious. “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.”
Freedman then adds, “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.”
Filing a complaint with California’s DFEH is often the first step to a lawsuit as the agency typically issues a right-to-sue letter. The process can also be a way to trigger a public investigation in situations where the parties have previously agreed via contract to go to arbitration to resolve disputes. That noted, DFEH could also be on the verge of acting more aggressively toward discrimination, harassment and hostile workplaces in the entertainment sector. Last month, the agency brought its own lawsuit alleging rampant sexual harassment on the set of Criminal Minds.
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