On Thursday, June 4, 2020, recent America’s Got Talent judge Gabrielle Union filed a discrimination complaint against NBC, Simon Cowell and others involved with AGT.
The complaint was filed with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), and in it, Union said she experienced discrimination, harassment and retaliation while working as a judge on the show in 2019.
In the copy of the complaint obtained by USA Today, it is stated that Union’s “refusal to remain silent in the face of a toxic culture at AGT” led to her termination. That culture allegedly “included racist jokes, racist performances, sexual orientation discrimination, and excessive focus on female judges’ appearances, including race-related comments.”
The Complaint Alleges Cowell Refused to Smoke Outside and There Were Racist Comments Made on Set
Since leaving the show, Union has maintained that there was racism on set and that she and her co-star, Julianne Hough, faced discrimination for being women as well.
Following Union’s exit from the show, Variety published a report alleging Union’s contract was not picked up because she asked the producers to report a racist joke. Both women were reportedly subject to excessive notes on their appearance, with Union being told her various hairstyles were “too black” for the audience and Hough receiving near-constant criticism for her hair, makeup and wardrobe choices.
Vulture has also reported that workplace tension between Union and Simon Cowell was a factor. Some of the tension reportedly came from Cowell’s smoking on set, which is against the law in California.
Both of these allegations are included in the new complaint, though NBC and the Screen Actors Guild reportedly investigated her allegations in December 2019.
“Through the investigation process, it has been revealed 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,” an NBC statement reportedly read.
Union’s Husband Supported Her on Twitter
After the complaint was announced in a tweet that said Union had been trying to negotiate with NBC Universal on cultural and workplace issues for months, Union’s husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, spoke out in a series of tweets.
He began by saying that NBC has been calling her a “liar” after months of “trying to inform y’all of the issues in the work place and also make sure other employees of color that comes after her won’t have the same experiences.”
“When these negotiations started my house started being watched and my family started being followed,” he tweeted. “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.”
Complaints such as the one Union filed often lead to lawsuits. Sources say that she may also be filing a separate suit against Simon Cowell, the creator of America’s Got Talent.