Gabrielle Union Launches Discrimination Action Against Simon Cowell & Fremantle Over ‘America’s Got Talent’ Firing; Claims NBC Exec Paul Telegdy “Threatened” Her Over Probe
NBC may say it’s all over and done with, but Gabrielle Union doesn’t think so, and the former America’s Got Talent judge is taking Simon Cowell, Universal TV, Syco Entertainment and Fremantle Productions North America to task and likely to court over what really went down on the competition series last season – and the L.A.’s Finest star is naming executive names.
Clearly moving towards either a lawsuit she now has the right to pursue or arbitration, Union’s harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaint filed Thursday with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing covers a lot of the same ground made public in her previous statements regarding “racist and misogynistic conduct” on AGT during her short stint. However, the document obtained by Deadline also explosively alleges NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy directly intervened in a probe over those claims in an effort to “silence and intimidate” her.
“Telegdy contradicted his statements to the media and personally disregarded NBC’s ‘Principles of Business Conduct’ (hereinafter, ‘Code of Conduct’) mandating confidentiality for workplace investigations by contacting Union’s agent and disclosing confidential information obtained during the ongoing investigation into Union’s concerns in an attempt to silence and intimidate Union from providing information to the investigator about her experiences,” reads the 38-page complaint (read it here) to the DFEH from heavyweight Hollywood lawyer Bryan Freedman that has prompted a right-to-sue letter.
“On or about February 4, 2020, Telegdy threatened Union through her agent and warned Union’s agent that Union had better cease from pursuing her claims of racism while filming AGT. Union’s agent was shocked that the Chairman of NBC Entertainment was attempting to threaten and intimidate Union. Union’s agent could not recall another instance in his career when a senior executive at a network had threatened and intimidated an employee during an ongoing workplace investigation.”
Union is represented by a team of agents at CAA.
In regards to the claims against Telegdy, NBC has not responded to request for comment from Deadline – if and when they do, we will update this post. (UPDATE, 2:38: See statement from NBC here denying that Paul Telegdy directly threatened Gabrielle Union)
It should also be noted that whether this ends up in court or behind closed doors, this is not NBC and the Freedman + Tailtelman co-founder’s first rodeo. Freedman, who has represented Deadline’s parent company PMC in the past, was at the table for Megyn Kelly in her late 2018 exit from the network and multimillion-dollar payout in early 2019.
“At the time when Telegdy threatened Union through her agent, Union had not made any public statements whatsoever regarding her experience on AGT,” the filing goes on to say, though Union and her husband, NBA star Dwayne Wade, had circumspectly gone on social media back in November 2019. “It thus became clear to Union that Telegdy was not merely attempting to silence Union in the media, but attempting to silence Union from making any further comments to the investigator.”
That investigator to look deeper into Union’s claims of health concerns over Cowell’s cavalier smoking indoors, blackface performers, complaints not being properly passed on to HR, “racist” jokes by guest Jay Leno and more, was the outside attorney brought in by NBC and Fremantle. Today’s complaint notes that the investigator seems to have spent a lot of time in Portugal on vacation soon after the probe started. The complaint also says that most of the investigator’s inquires and interviews were conducted via telephone. The one exception, as laid out in today’s dense DFEH filing, was a December 3, 2019 in-person sit-down with Union.
“By virtue of Union refusing to silently endure the racist and misogynistic conduct on AGT, she was labeled as ‘intimidating’ and viewed as the problem, thus resulting in her termination,” the complaint submitted to the state agency by Union’s legal team notes. “However, based on the preliminary results of the investigator’s findings, it is clear that there are systemic problems on AGT,” the filing goes on to say, citing Cowell’s behavior, racial bias in the hair and make-up rooms, and an AGT staffer seemingly out-and-out lying to Union over how a blackface performer ended up on the show, among other instances.
In fact, as Telegdy had supposedly been sharing information about the confidential probe to so-called “A-list talent with whom NBC was looking to hire” and others according to the filing, in the days before the coronavirus shut down Hollywood, the investigator admitted to Union personally that the probe was incomplete and apparently tainted, to put it mildly.
“On March 4, 2020, Union attended an in-person meeting with the investigator, NBC and Fremantle, during which time the investigator shared the preliminary results of her ‘investigation’ into Union’s employment claims,” the damning filing unveils.
“At the outset of this meeting, the investigator revealed that she had previously disclosed the preliminary result of her ‘investigation’ to NBC several weeks earlier outside of the presence of Union,” the paperwork says. “The investigator, who was hired by NBC and Fremantle, acknowledged, among other things, that she had already made changes to her preliminary findings at the direction of NBC and Fremantle. The investigator also cautioned that her findings should not be construed to suggest that a proper “investigation” was performed.”
Months after Union was dumped from AGT on November 22 after just one season at the judge’s table, NBC and AGT producers issued a statement on the internal investigation on day one of the debut of the latest season of the show.
“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 Comcast-owned net, Fremantle and Syco declared on May 27. “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.”
Clearly, not so much in Gabrielle Union’s eyes.
“Instead of taking Union’s complaints seriously and using them as a catalyst for real meaningful change, Telegdy, NBC, Fremantle and Syco seek to blame the victim, Union, in order to maintain the status quo,” Thursday’s filing says. “The steps that Telegdy, NBC, Fremantle and Syco have employed to silence Union and to cover up racial discrimination on the set of AGT stands in stark contrast to the current worldwide efforts to eradicate racism through the Black Lives Matter protests and movement.
“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,” attorney Freedman said in a statement to Deadline this morning.
News of the DFEH filing was first reported by Yashar Ali on Twitter