Details surrounding the racial slur scandal that rocked Netflix in its uppermost executive ranks have come to light, thanks to an in-depth report from the Wall Street Journal about life inside the streaming monolith.
Published Thursday, a hefty part of the story focuses on ousted Netflix communications chief Jonathan Friedland, whose use of the N-word in a staff meeting this February resulted in his termination four months later — a notably slow process in a workplace rife with swift and brutal firing practices, the report says.
Friedland, who spent about a decade as a Wall St. Journal reporter and editor, reportedly called a meeting of around 60 employees in the publicity department earlier this year to discuss how the team could better handle backlash to insensitive content. He specifically referred to a joke in Tom Segura’s Netflix stand-up special about how the comedian longed for a time when the word “retarded” was acceptable in polite society.
Friedland told the Journal he was advocating for parents of special needs kids who might see the routine and feel a “gut punch” over the comments — saying, “as if an African-American person had heard the N-word.” But Friedland used the full slur in the meeting.
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After wide complaints from staff, Friedland apologized in writing to staff, spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his own team before meeting two human resources reps who were both African American. He repeated the full N-word — again — to the two reps in recounting the story. Two months after that, at an April off-site meeting in Rio set for top executives, Friedland glossed over the event and expressed remorse again, the report said. The apologies weren’t sticking.
In May, a group of African-American employees that requested a meeting with Friedland about his department were disappointed he did not specifically address and apologize for the incident. Word of that meeting got back to Hastings, who called Friedland on business in Japan and fired him over the phone.
Friedland admitted he “neglected to keep an eye on any lingering hurt it may have caused when I was moving at a million miles an hour.”
After news of Friedland’s exit hit, an irate Hastings emailed his executives demanding that the leak come forward to HR, reportedly adding in his note that “you’ll get a discreet quiet exit, and our generous severance package” for coming forward.
“[Friedland] should have been fried right away, not months later,” Nishant Bhajaria, a former Netflix engineer who left the company in February, told WSJ. The engineer specifically singled out Hastings for ignoring a key tenet of an internal manifesto that it will not employ “brilliant jerks.”
Another month after that, in July, Hastings stood before 500 Netflix executives at a retreat near Los Angeles on the beach. Hastings shed tears on stage over the scandal, before slicing a lemon in half and drinking its juice while reciting the proverb about making lemonade.
A Netflix spokesperson did not immediately respond to Variety request for comment on the reported events surrounding Friedland’s exit.