NBCUniversal Accused of Hiding ‘Civil and Criminal Wrongs’ in Reality Series NDAs

Legal representation for Bravo, E! and CNBC clients previously warned the entertainment giant “the day of reckoning has arrived”

"The Real Housewives of Miami" Season 5 (Photo credit: Bravo)

Lawyers representing reality stars and crew of NBCUniversal subsidiaries are calling out the “unlawful” NDAs imposed by the entertainment giant that “hide civil and criminal wrongs” that occurred on reality programs on NBC, Bravo Media, E! and CNBC.

“NBCUniversal has represented to the public that it requires its third-party production partners to comply with its own policies in an effort to stop harassment, discrimination, and other illegal conduct,” attorney Bryan Freedman wrote to NBCU’s general counsel in a letter obtained Monday by TheWrap. “Yet, for obvious reasons, it has turned a blind eye as these production partners enforce illegal nondisclosure agreements to hide civil and criminal wrongs.”

The letter, dated Aug. 20, alleged that the conglomerate’s “collective failure to comply with the law has caused hundreds or thousands of people to stay silent about unlawful workplace conduct they have witnessed or experienced, which has included: racism; sexism; sexual violence; revenge porn; child labor; forced intoxication; and psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.”

“To ensure silence, NBC has been wielding these contractual terms like a sword,” Freedman wrote, adding that as a result, the “culture of fear and silence is no doubt responsible, in part, for the disproportionate rate of suicide among reality tv participants.”

Sunday’s letter follows up on two letters sent to NBCUniversal general counsel earlier this month that accused the company’s subsidiaries of imposing a “pattern and practice of grotesque and depraved mistreatment” against the talent and crews of numerous reality series, warning that “the day of reckoning has arrived.”

“These individuals have been mentally, physically, and financially victimized by NBC and threatened with ruin should they decide to speak out about their mistreatment,” the letter from Freedman on Aug. 3 read. “As a result, the sordid and dark underbelly of NBC’s widely consumed reality TV universe has remained under wraps for far too long.”

TheWrap has reached out to NBCU for comment on the latest letter.

In a statement following news of the two previous letters, NBCUniversal said it was “committed to maintaining a safe and respectful workplace for cast and crew on our reality shows.”

“At the outset, we require our third-party production partners to have appropriate workplace policies and training in place,” a spokesperson for NBCUniversal said in the statement. “If complaints are brought to our attention, we work with our production partners to ensure that timely, appropriate action is or has been taken, including investigations, medical and/or psychological support, and other remedial action that may be warranted such as personnel changes.”

Amid the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, “The Real Housewives of New York City” star Bethenny Frankel called for reality stars to unionize in late July, urging fellow unscripted talent to join the unions on the picket line in solidarity.

After notifying NBCUniversal of the investigation, spearheaded by Freedman and Mark Geragos, and demanding that the conglomerate “preserve relevant evidence,” Sunday’s letter shared the the investigation “not only confirmed the veracity of our initial allegations but have also discovered that the breadth and scope of [NBCUniversal’s] wrongdoing is greater than previously believed.”

“We are left with the inescapable conclusion that NBC and its production partners are grappling with systemic rot for which sunlight is the first necessary remedial measure,” Freedman wrote in the letter’s opening. “To date, that has been impossible owing to the draconian terms of NBC’s contracts with its cast and crew, which contain onerous confidentiality provisions coupled with ruinous penalties for breach.”

Noting that the company is “on notice that these nondisclosure agreements are unlawful,” Freedman cautioned that the “reprehensible practice must end now.”

“NBCUniversal has two choices: lead by example or be forced into compliance,” the letter continued. “In 2019, NBC News voluntarily released its employees from the nondisclosure agreements that had prevented them from sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination. This request is no different. We trust that NBCUniversal will do the right thing.”