Erin Jensen, USA TODAY USA TODAY Entertainment June 4, 2020, 7:07 PM
The makers of “America’s Got Talent” have a discrimination complaint on their hands.
Gabrielle Union, a judge terminated after one season in 2019, filed a complaint Thursday with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against NBC Universal Television, Fremantle Productions North America, co-creator, executive producer and judge Simon Cowell and his company, Syco Entertainment.
“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,” says the complaint. USA TODAY obtained a copy from Union’s attorney, Bryan Freedman.
Union’s husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, took to Twitter Thursday to support his wife, who he described as “someone who has been an advocate for the black and brown community, for women and rape victims.” He fired back at people who didn’t take her initial issues with her “AGT” job seriously.
“Y’all have deemed her a liar after months of trying to inform y’all of the issues in the work place and also to make sure other employees of color that comes after her won’t have the same experiences,” he said.
He added that during the ongoing negotiations between Union and NBC, he felt that his family was “being followed.”
When these negotiations started my house started being watched and my family started being followed. My daughter couldn’t even go to swim class without us being trailed by people looking for answers. Well y’all have the answers and y’all still don’t wanna listen to them.
“My daughter couldn’t even go to swim class without us being trailed by people looking for answers. Well y’all have the answers and y’all still don’t wanna listen to them,” Wade tweeted.”
In Union’s complaint, she newly charges NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy planned “to undermine” an external investigation into Union’s complaints by “pressuring Union from providing her true experience of racial discrimination and a hostile work environment.” She also says he shared confidential information on the controversy with celebrities that the show was seeking to replace her. (Sofia Vergara joined the cast this summer).
Telegdy “threatened” Union “in an attempt to silence her from telling the truth about racist actions that took place on the show,” Freedman said in a statement to USA TODAY on his client’s behalf.
NBC denied the accusation in a statement.
“The allegation that anyone involved in this process threatened Ms. Union is categorically untrue,” said spokeswoman Allison Ivers. “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.”
“AGT” producers have not yet commented on the complaint.
Union’s complaint also mocks NBC’s sentiment that the company supports the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of country-wide protests over the death of George Floyd, a victim of police brutality.
“That NBC would have the audacity to publicly state that ‘we stand with our black employees, colleagues, partners, and creators in outrage at acts of racism,’ after attempting to make Union (a black woman) the scapegoat for the problems that occurred on AGT speaks to NBC’s true feelings on race.” the complaint says.
The document mentions specific grievances Union raised including Cowell smoking cigarettes indoors, the allowing of an “AGT” act “to perform in blackface hands,” racist remarks from fellow judge Howie Mandel and Jay Leno, comments about her hair and the rejection of a child rapper Young Dylan, who allegedly Cowell “orchestrated the rejection of” because according to Cowell, “he was not an act ‘America can get behind.'”
As a result of Union reporting these instances, she “was labeled ‘difficult’ by NBC, Fremantle, Syco, and the producers on AGT,” the complaint says.
Union also takes issue with how producers concluded that Union’s allegations were unfounded. NBC, Fremantle and Syco released a joint statement May 27 that its investigation revealed “No one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union’s appearance, and neither race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time,” and that Union’s complaints were unrelated to their decision to fire her.
Contributing: Sara M. Moniuszko and The Associated Press