Gabrielle Union has filed a discrimination complaint against Simon Cowell and the producers of America’s Got Talent following her dismissal from the show last year.
Union, who is black, alleges she was sacked from her role as a judge for a “refusal to remain silent in the face of a toxic culture”, which her lawyers say included racist jokes and performances.
There was an “excessive focus” on female judges’ appearances, according to a complaint filed in California, as well as sexual orientation discrimination and and race-related comments.
Paul Telegdy, chairman of NBC Entertainment, is alleged to have “threatened” Union when she complained.
Cowell, the creator of America’s Got Talent, is yet to respond while NBCUniversal, NBC Entertainment’s parent company, issued a statement saying it is “categorically untrue” that anyone from the company threatened Union.
In her legal claim, filed with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), Union alleges a list of complaints, including Cowell’s smoking indoors on set, which, if true, would be against state laws.
NBC, alongside the other respondents, Cowell, his Syco production company and the Fremantle production company, are said to have allowed a contestant to perform in “blackface hands”, despite producers voicing concerns the act was racist.
Union, known for her roles in films including Bring It On and Bad Boys II, also alleges she was discriminated against because of her hair. According to the complaint, an NBC executive told Union’s manager her hair was “too wild” and that it needed to be “toned down”.
The complaint states: “The critique of Union’s hair, which was an unsolicited opinion… was subsequently interpreted as implying that her hair was ‘too black’.”
In a statement accompanying the complaint, Union’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, criticised NBC for recent statements backing racial equality following the death of George Floyd, while alleging they had a different attitude towards his client.
He said: “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.
“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.”
An NBCUniversal spokeswoman 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.”
The results of the outside investigation were announced last week and found Union’s allegations were unfounded.
Union appeared on America’s Got Talent for a single season, before she and fellow new judge Julianne Hough were not asked to return in November.