Gabrielle Union claims NBC exec threatened her to stay quiet about 'America's Got Talent' racism

Taryn Ryder
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Gabrielle Union has filed a discrimination complaint, nearly six months after she was ousted from America’s Got Talent. The actress and activist said she was fired after only one season for raising concerns about toxicity and racial incidents on set. 

In the complaint, which was filed on Thursday with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), Union names NBCUniversal and the show’s producers, FremantleMedia and Simon Cowell’s Syco. In a statement to Variety, Union — via her attorney — also made an alarming accusation against NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy, claiming he “threatened” her to keep quiet about “whistleblowing.” (The company later called the allegation “categorically untrue.”)

“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 Union’s high-powered attorney, Bryan Freedman, referring to the company’s recent support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“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 continued.

Freedman alleged that Telegdy “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.”

DFEH complaints are often precursors to lawsuits. According to journalist Yashar Ali, Union intends to file a separate lawsuit against Cowell.

Yahoo Entertainment reached out to Fremantle, Syco and Cowell for comment but did not immediately receive responses. NBCU denied anyone threatened the actress.

“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,” a spokesperson said on Thursday. “NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect.”

Union has not directly addressed the complaint, but her husband did. Dwyane Wade replied to Ali’s tweet.

Union broke her silence last week about specific issues she encountered during her time as a judge on the competition show. Speaking with Varietys Matt Donnelly, the actress confirmed earlier reports that she lodged a complaint about Cowell’s indoor smoking. Union said it was a dire choice for someone “coming onto a set and you are literally met with the very definition of a toxic work environment, and it’s being carried out by the most powerful person on the production.”

“I couldn’t escape. I ended up staying sick for two months straight. It was a cold that lingered, and turned into bronchitis, because I couldn’t shake it. It impacted my voice, which affects my ability to do my job,” she said, adding her constant illness rattled fellow judge Howie Mandel, who has talked about his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and germophobia.

“It was challenging to tend to my illness without being made to feel like I’m responsible for my own sickness,” she continued. “It put me in a position from day one where I felt othered. I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult, when I’m asking for basic laws to be followed. I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to.” 

Union also raised concerns about multiple racially insensitive incidents she witnessed, including one involving Jay Leno. When asked specifically about the report that she was told her hairstyles were “too black” for viewers, the actress wouldn’t comment, citing NBCUniversal’s ongoing investigation

Shortly after Union’s interview, NBC, Fremantle and Syco released findings from the investigation into Union’s departure and said there was no evidence of racial bias or “derogatory remarks.” 

Watch — Gabrielle Union breaks silence on departure from America’s Got Talent:

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