A few weeks after an internal NBC investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of America’s Got Talent regarding Gabrielle Union‘s allegations of racism, the former judge is laying the ground for suing the show’s network, production companies and Simon Cowell.
Union filed a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Cowell, NBC Universal, Fremantle Productions and Syco, New York magazine’s Yashar Ali tweeted Thursday. The document concerns Union’s allegations of racial insensitivity and sexism on set, with which she went public in 2019 after news broke that she and Julianne Hough — who’d both joined AGT as judges in Season 14 — would not be returning for Season 15.
Variety reported at the time that the pair had been subject to a “toxic culture” at the show, including excessive notes on their appearance (including a specific critique that Union’s hairstyles were “too black”). Union also reportedly clashed with producers about a contestant whose material she found racially insensitive. (Said performer ultimately was allowed to try out, though his audition was later cut from the final broadcast.)
NBC announced in December that it had commissioned a third-party investigation in response to Union’s claims. In May, the network, along with Fremantle and Syco, put out the following statement based on the findings of the independent investigation, which concluded that “no one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union’s appearance, and that neither race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time.” That said, the investigation “highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved.”
UPDATE: In a statement, a rep for NBC says, “The allegation that anyone involved in this process threatened Ms. Union is categorically untrue. 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.”
TVLine has reached out to representatives for Union, Cowell, Fremantle and Syco for comment.
The complaint also alleges that NBC Entertainment chairman Paul 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.”
In a follow-up statement Thursday, Union’s lawyer Bryan Freedman stated that 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.” (You can read Freedman’s statement in full below.)
When Gabrielle Union informed NBC of radically 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.