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Actress Gabrielle Union Fired From America’s Got Talent After Complaints of Racism and Unhealthy Workplace

ExitNBC Universal once again finds itself entangled in another employment scandal after actress Gabrielle Union was dropped as a judge on the show, America’s Got Talent, amid complaints of racism and an unsafe workplace. According to reports, NBC fired Union – a known advocate for minority communities - because she spoke out about the toxic and racist workplace culture during production of the show. Union allegedly spoke out about several discriminatory practices during her time on the show, including being told by producers that America would not get behind a ten-year old black rapper; that the network discouraged her from wearing certain outfits and hairstyles they considered “too black” for viewers; and for raising concerns that host Simon Cowell was creating an unhealthy workplace by smoking indoors. But it was her complaint to producers about a racist joke comedian Jay Leno allegedly made about Korean restaurants during taping that apparently sealed her fate. Though producers allegedly dismissed Union’s complaint, the joke was cut from the show, then in retaliation, they terminated her three-year contract after just one season as a judge on the show. 

Many in the Hollywood community came to Union’s defense and spoke out about workplace discrimination in the industry. Actress Patricia Arquette tweeted at Union: “You should not be penalized for trying to have a workplace that honors the rule of law in the workplace.” The Time’s Up advocacy group launched a petition calling for NBC to own up to their “racist and inappropriate behavior,” and issued a statement slamming the network, stating in part that: “Union’s experience shows that NBC Universal still has a lot of work to do to change its culture so discrimination, harassment and retaliation are no longer tolerated at the company.” The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the union that represents workers in the media and entertainment industry issued a statement saying: “We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously,” and has since contacted Union’s camp about the situation and is currently investigating the allegations. NBC recently met with Union personally and is also investigating the matter.

The New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees within various protected classes and categories, including race, color, and national origin. Under New York law, employees also have the right to a safe workplace free from known dangers and health hazards. It is also illegal, under New York law for employers to retaliate against employees who complain about a prohibited discriminatory or unlawful employment practice. Union’s conduct as described above would constitute protected activity under the law and firing her for engaging in that protected activity would be illegal.

If you think that you were retaliated against at work for complaining about prohibited discriminatory or unlawful employment practices or have any questions about discrimination or unsafe workplace, please contact the New York employment attorneys Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. immediately to schedule a consultation.

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