On Nov. 22, news broke that Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough would not be returning as judges on America’s Got Talent — but that wasn’t the real story. People get replaced on TV all the time, people assume it’s part of the Hollywood game, but now we know their firing came as a result of their workplace complaints.
According to news reports, Union was let go after executives on the show deemed her to be difficult. So, what made Union a difficult cast member of AGT? She complained that AGT creator Simon Cowell, and her co-star, regularly smoked indoors, creating an unhealthy situation for everyone around. She also complained after comedian Jay Leno made an offensive joke at the expense of the Asian community. Furthermore, during her time as a judge, Union got feedback that she needed to change her hairstyle because her hair was deemed as “too black” for AGT audiences.
The response on social media has been overwhelmingly positive for Union. Stars such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ellen Pompeo, Ariana Grande, Debra Messing, and others are standing up for Union and showing their support for her bravery.
“It’s unfortunate that NBC, the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting up with it…has not changed their practices or culture. I support @itsgabrielleu commitment to speaking up to injustice. It takes courage,” Pompeo tweeted.
“Workplace cultures will continue to be toxic until there is unity and solidarity among all women. If you go for self in these moments, you undermine the work we are out here trying to do. Obviously, this network feels like they can operate like this, and it’s okay.”
While it appears Union followed the protocol and reported her concerns to the right people at NBC, her complaints were seen as “difficult,” which is allegedly why she was let go. NBC and AGT did issue a response, saying, “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture. 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.”
The Harvard Business Review reported that “One reason people don’t speak up is the significant risk of doing so. Challenging the status quo threatens people’s status and relationships with supervisors and coworkers, research shows. Speaking up can also result in negative performance evaluation, undesirable job assignments, or even termination. Most people are aware of these potential costs; as a result, most stay quiet about bias, injustice, and mistreatment.”
But it is crucial to remember that you don’t have to be a celebrity to speak up and report toxic workplace environments. It’s risky, but that shouldn’t prohibit you from reporting any concerns to Human Resources. Click here and here for resources on the precautions one should take when reporting toxic workplace to HR.