NBC denied former America's Got Talent judge Gabrielle Union's allegation that she was "threatened" by anyone during her one season on the reality competition series last year, but stayed quiet on her discrimination claims. Union filed a complaint against NBC, Fremantle Productions and Simon Cowell's Syco on Thursday with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In it, Union accused NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy of threatening her.
Union and Hough were only on AGT for Season 14 in 2019, and NBC surprisingly decided to bring back neither judge for Season 15. After their firing was announced, Variety reported in November 2019 that Union and Hough often faced critiques on their appearances and Union clashed with producers over racially insensitive jokes. Union reportedly received a note that her hairstyles were "too black" and she complained about a joke Jay Leno made that was ultimately cut from an episode.
After a long meeting with Union, NBC hired a third party to investigate Union's allegations. The investigation's findings were not released until last month. It found no evidence that anyone "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 investigation still found "some areas in which reporting processes could be improved," notes TVLine.
On Thursday, Variety reported Union filed a complaint with California's DFEH, as well as a separate lawsuit against Cowell. An NBC rep disputed Union's allegation that "anyone involved in this process threatened" her in a statement. "We took Ms. Union’s concerns seriously, and engaged an outside investigator who found an overarching culture of diversity on the show," the NBC statement continued. "NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect."
Union's lawyer Bryan Freedman quickly responded, telling TVLine NBC "did not care enough" to "promptly" investigate Union's allegations or ask human resources 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 said. "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."
America's Got Talent replaced Union with Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara and brought back Heidi Klum to replace Hough. The show taped most of the auditions before being put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Episodes air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.