Gabrielle Union filed a harassment complaint Thursday in the state of California against the producers and network behind “America’s Got Talent.” In addition to the complaint, she raised a new accusation that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy threatened her over speaking out against racism on set.
Union, through power attorney Bryan Freedman, filed the complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), naming producers FremantleMedia and Simon Cowell’s Syco as well as NBCUniversal. DFEH complaints are often precursors to lawsuits.
The nature of Telegdy’s accused threat was not immediately clear. In a Variety cover story last week, Union spoke out for the first time with accusations of on-set racism and a lack of accountability from all production parties.
In a statement to Variety, a spokesperson for NBCUniversal said “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.”
In response to that statement, Freedman on behalf of Union provided the following:
“It’s very telling that NBC fails to substantively address the DFEH complaint that Ms. Union filed based on racial discrimination. Instead, NBC wants to try and play word games by saying that their Chairman Paul Telegdy did not directly threaten Gabrielle Union. NBC of course ignores Paragraph 5 of the DFEH complaint which specifically states: On or about February 4, 2020, 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. To hide behind the fact that Telegdy did not call her directly but her agent instead does not absolve him from his wrongful conduct. Should Mr. Telegdy wish to see phone records or call sheets from the date of his threat, we can make those available for the world to see. It is frankly sad but not surprising that, rather than addressing its own racial discrimination, NBC wants to try and avoid the systemic issues that permeate its company.”
Union is a client of CAA, though it was not immediately clear which agent Telegdy might have spoken with. Fremantle and Cowell had no immediate comment on the matter.
“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,'” Freedman said, invoking the company’s recent support of #BlackLivesMatter. “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 that “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.”
Variety first reported last year that Union and her fellow “AGT” judge Julianne Hough were dismissed from the series despite both having contractual options to return. Explosive reports followed about a culture of toxicity, including racist incidents involving guest judge Jay Leno, representations of black face from contestants that were approved by producers, and racially charged complaints about Union’s rotating hairstyles.
“At the end of all this, my goal is real change — and not just on this show but for the larger parent company. It starts from the top down,” Union said last week. “My goal is to create the happiest, most high-functioning, inclusive, protected and healthy example of a workplace.”
Fremantle, Syco and NBC issued a joint statement in response to the cover story, saying they “immediately engaged an outside investigator who conducted more than 30 interviews to review the issues raised by Ms. Union. While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved.” Details of these new processes were not immediately available.
One insider close to the show says some changes have been implemented, including the installment of sensitivity training and outlets to help screen and elevate issues to human resources more efficiently. Those changes are already in place on the new season of “AGT,” which premiered May 26.
The news was first reported by journalist Yashar Ali.