Gabrielle Union Obtains Rights to Sue Simon Cowell and 'AGT,' According to Report

Kayla Keegan
Photo credit: NBC
Photo credit: NBC

From Good Housekeeping

  • America's Got Talent season 14 judge Gabrielle Union filed a discrimination complaint against Simon Cowell, NBC, and others involved with the series.

  • In this complaint, Gabrielle said she experienced harassment, retaliation and discrimination. It also alleged that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy tried to "undermine" an investigation into the issues raised.

  • Gabrielle has reportedly secured the rights to sue Simon and the network.

  • NBC had previously launched an investigation into Gabrielle's claims but found that "no one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks" about her appearance.

  • Gabrielle told Variety that she is speaking out to create "real change" and a "high-functioning, inclusive, protected, and healthy example of a workplace."

Last Thursday, Gabrielle Union filed a discrimination complaint against several parties involved with the making of America's Got Talent.

According to the complaint filed with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), Gabrielle allegedly experienced discrimination, harassment and retaliation while working as a judge on season 14 of the show in 2019. DFEH complaints are often precursors to lawsuits.

Per USA Today, the complaint specifically calls out NBC Universal Television, Fremantle Productions North America, judge and co-creator Simon Cowell, and his company, Syco Entertainment. This week, Entertainment Tonight reports that Gabrielle has secured the rights to sue Simon and the network.

“Union, a black woman, was singled out due to her physical appearance and discriminated against by NBC due to the fact that her hair did not fit within the white image that NBC apparently sought to convey to the audience of AGT,” the complaint stated. The statement also alleged that a show producer “informed Union’s manager that her hair was 'too wild' and that it needed to be 'toned down.'”

In addition to those allegations, Gabrielle reportedly also called out incidents involving Simon's refusal to smoke outside, an act on the show performing in "blackface hands," and racist comments made on set.

Photo credit: NBC
Photo credit: NBC

Thursday's filed complaint followed her and Julianne Hough's exits from the series last fall, after only one season as judges.

After their departures, reports surfaced that Gabrielle had voiced various complaints. The original Variety report that came out in November cites several instances which contributed to a "toxic" workplace environment. One particular moment included guest judge Jay Leno making a racist joke. While the comedian did not respond to the reporter's request for comment at the time, in December he did say he enjoyed worked with Gabrielle, and that she is a "great girl."

Gabrielle and Julianne also reportedly both received negative remarks about their appearances during tapings.

Raising these issues resulted in an investigation by NBC and the Screen Actors Guild in December. The investigation, as announced by NBC, found that Gabrielle's claims of racism had "no bearing" on the network's decision to cut ties with her. The findings did, however, highlight "some areas in which reporting processes could be improved."

"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,” the statement reportedly read, in part.

In light of recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd, NBC posted a statement to its social media platforms in support of the network's Black employees and the greater Black Lives Matter movement.

In response, however, Gabrielle's attorney Bryan Freedman issued the following statement:

“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.' ... 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.”

Thursday's complaint filed to the DFEH also contained a new allegation against NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy. Specifically, that the network leader tried to "undermine" an investigation into Gabrielle's complaints by "pressuring Union from providing her true experience of racial discrimination."

According to Fox News, the NBC chairman called Gabrielle's agents to issue "unspecified threats" and shared confidential information regarding the controversy with celebrities that the show was looking to hire.

NBCUniversal responded to Gabrielle's complaint from Thursday by saying, "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," the statement said. "NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect."

Meanwhile, Gabrielle's husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, took to social media on Thursday to defend his wife's decision to file a complaint.

"Y’all have deemed 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 come after her won’t have the same experiences," he tweeted.

His tweet thread continued: "So instead of making sure your work environment is a a [sic] better place for everyone. Y’all have decided that she what? Made it all up because she lost a job? She’s a black women [sic] in Hollywood she has lost out on many jobs ... 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.”

As for Gabrielle, the actress and author has continually been speaking out. On social media, she's been retweeting the words of Black activists, athletes, actors, and more in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and fight for racial equality. Hours after the complaint was filed, Gabrielle shared writer Jemele Hill's words about corporate culture and the treatment of Black employees.

On May 27, Gabrielle explained to Variety the reason why she is adamant about sharing her experiences.

“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,” she said. “My goal is to create the happiest, most high-functioning, inclusive, protected and healthy example of a workplace.”

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