Gabrielle Union has taken legal action against NBC Universal, Simon Cowell, and the show’s production companies over six months following her exit from America’s Got Talent.
The 47-year-old actress filed a complaint – through her attorney Bryan Freedman – against the media conglomerate, America’s Got Talent creator Cowell, Fremantle and Syco.
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“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,” Freedman said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “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 referred to NBC’s recent support of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the passing of George Floyd and the protests that followed the tragic incident.
“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,” the attorney said. “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.”
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, NBC responded to Union’s complaint. “The allegation that anyone involved in this process threatened Ms. Union is categorically untrue,” the network said. “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 Union’s complaint obtained by PEOPLE, she alleged she was terminated from the show after one season due to “her refusal to remain silent in the face of a toxic culture at AGT that included racist jokes, racist performances, sexual orientation discrimination, and excessive focus on female judges’ appearances, including race-related comments.”
Also in the complaint, Union specifically addressed her experiences and alleged that on her first day on America’s Got Talent “she was forced to request that Cowell smoke cigarettes outside in accordance with California law.”
The actress is severely allergic to cigarette smoke. However, Cowell allegedly “disregarded Union’s request and continued to smoke cigarettes indoors.”
Union also alleged in her complaint that NBC, Fremantle and Syco allowed a contestant to “perform in blackface hands” despite Cowell and his production team expressing their “concerns that the act was racist.”
“Union immediately complained to NBC that allowing the blackface hands performer to appear before a live audience gave the impression that NBC, Fremantle, Syco and Cowell condoned racism,” the complaint stated.
Also in Union’s complaint, she called out Jay Leno for allegedly making a racially insensitive joke about a “painting of Cowell surrounded by his dogs, stating that Cowell’s dogs ‘looked like something one would find on the menu at a Korean restaurant.”
Additionally, Union also alleged that Cowell rejected a young black contestant named Dylan Gilmer, saying he was not an act “America can get behind.”
In her complaint, Union claimed that she 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 AGT audience.”
Union said in the complaint that she brought her grievances to the company, but “instead of taking the appropriate actions and investigating these issues, Union was labeled as difficult.”
In a new claim, Union alleged that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy threatened her over speaking out against racism on the talent show’s set.
“I signed up for the experience of being a part of a show that hails itself as the biggest stage in the world. Super diverse, and one about giving people an opportunity to shine where they otherwise probably wouldn’t,” Union told the publication “What could go wrong?”
In November 2019, Variety reported that Union and Julianne Hough would not be returning to America’s Got Talent‘s 15th season.
Following the announcement, Variety published a report that claimed Union had expressed concerns over alleged racial insensitivity on the show’s set, and that both women said they were subjected to “excessive notes” on their physical appearance. (In a statement at the time, Hough denied the claims and she was “happy to continue my working relationship with NBC.”)
As a result of their departure, an internal investigation of NBC and production companies Fremantle and Syco Entertainment was launched. In a previous statement obtained by PEOPLE, the three companies said:
“We have a shared passion to make America’s Got Talent a positive, inclusive and diverse show that is open to all individuals from any country or background. We are proud and grateful that our contestants and audiences support our ongoing mission, which is represented in the incredible people who participate in the show each year. We have heard from contestants and talent alike that their experience on AGT has had a positive impact on their lives. When we heard Ms. Union had concerns about her time on the show, we took them extremely seriously.”
“NBC, Fremantle and Syco 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.”
“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 investigation has shown that the concerns raised by Ms. Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract.”
“NBC, Fremantle and Syco share Ms. Union’s dedication to diversity and inclusion in the industry. We continue to remain committed to having an inclusive environment for everyone associated with the show, and to upholding AGT as one of the most diverse programs on television.”