Time’s Up on Gabrielle Union’s ‘AGT’ Ouster: NBCU ‘Still Has a Lot of Work to Do to Change Its Culture’

Former judge’s experience “is exemplary of the double bind that black women face at work,” Tina Tchen says

Last Updated: December 2, 2019 @ 12:33 PM

Time’s Up President and CEO Tina Tchen is speaking out on behalf of actress Gabrielle Union after she was ousted from her position as a judge on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” last week.

“Union’s experience shows that NBCUniversal still has a lot of work to do to change its culture so discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are no longer tolerated at the company,” Tchen said in a statement Monday.

“Not only did Union reportedly endure and witness racist and inappropriate behavior — including racially-insensitive comments and excessive criticism about her physical appearance — but it also appears she was punished for speaking out,” she continued. You can read the full statement below.

The organization has also started a petition “urging NBCUniversal leaders to take Union’s allegations seriously and take concrete steps to foster a safe and equitable workplace,” in its words. Find the petition here.

News that Union and Julianne Hough would not be returning as judges for season 15 broke on Nov. 23, and was followed by an outpouring of support for Union on Twitter. Among the celebrities to come to her defense were Patricia Arquette, Ellen Pompeo, and Union’s husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade. Wade expressed his support for her in a series of tweets, in which he wrote that Union had been fired from the show, and that “Men lie, Women lie, numbers don’t.”

Union’s contract was not renewed following several behind-the-scenes incidents and what “AGT” showrunners described as “difficult” behavior, Vulture reported on Wednesday. According to Vulture, Union complained about judge Simon Cowell smoking indoors, a remark during taping by guest judge Jay Leno she deemed to be a racist that did not make it to air and misgendering of contestants. In addition, Vulture reported that Union had supported a 10-year-old African American rapper before being told that the show needed “an act America can get behind.”

According to Vulture, Union brought these concerns up with the NBC execs who oversaw the show, who said they’d look into the situation.

Last week an NBC spokesperson told TheWrap: “‘America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”

On Sunday, “America’s Got Talent” producers Fremantle and Syco released a joint statement saying they are working with Union to hear “her concerns” about “workplace culture” and “take whatever next steps” are appropriate.

“We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” the trio said Sunday in a joint statement. “We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”

No word yet as to who will replace Union and Hough in Season 15, although executive producer and judge Simon Cowell is expected to return, as well as long-time judge Howie Mandel and host Terry Crews. When “America’s Got Talent: The Champions” returns for Season 2 in Jan. 2020, it will be judged by Cowell, Alesha Dixon, Heidi Klum, Mandel and hosted by Terry Crews.

Below is Tchen’s full statement.

“Gabrielle Union’s experience at ‘America’s Got Talent’ is exemplary of the double bind that black women face at work. Not only did Union reportedly endure and witness racist and inappropriate behavior - including racially-insensitive comments and excessive criticism about her physical appearance but it also appears she was punished for speaking out: the company labeled her as ‘difficult’ before ousting her from the show altogether.

“Union’s story is deeply troubling on its own, but her experience is particularly problematic because it follows a pattern of NBCUniversal protecting the careers of powerful men at the expense of women who speak out.

“Union’s experience shows that NBCUniversal still has a lot of work to do to change its culture so discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are no longer tolerated at the company. Building a culture of safety and equity requires continuous, intentional work sustained over a long period of time - even when a company isn’t in the throes of a crisis.

“Ensuring people of all kinds are respected and supported at work is critical for any company, but especially a media company like NBC that has such an outsized influence in our culture and in our lives.”

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