Gabrielle Union is finally spilling the tea on her departure from America’s Got Talent last year—revealing that due to the “toxic” work environment on the NBC series, she became physically ill, eventually being diagnosed with bronchitis that she couldn’t shake.
In an interview with Variety, Union didn’t hold back, saying that she initially was excited to be “part of a show that hails itself as the biggest stage in the world. Super diverse, and one about giving people an opportunity to shine where they otherwise probably wouldn’t. What could go wrong?”
Still, she knew from day one that something behind the scenes was amiss, especially as creator, judge and executive producer Simon Cowell smoked cigarettes on the set. Union has been severely allergic to smoke her entire life.
Union recalled “coming onto a set and you are literally met with the very definition of a toxic work environment, and it’s being carried out by the most powerful person on the production.”
“I couldn’t escape. I ended up staying sick for two months straight. It was a cold that lingered, and turned into bronchitis, because I couldn’t shake it,” Union revealed. “It impacted my voice, which affects my ability to do my job.”
Union said because of her illness she “felt othered. I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult, when I’m asking for basic laws to be followed. I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to.”
The actress subsequently alleged that she was fired for calling out incidents of on-set racism and raising other concerns about the workplace environment on the show, which the show’s production company adamantly denies.
“I didn’t feel like myself,” she shared. “I’m shape-shifting to make myself more palatable. I’m contorting myself into something I don’t recognize. I had to look at myself and say, ‘Do you want to keep it easy? Or do you want to be you, and stand up?’ Because I’m not the only one being poisoned at work.”
Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough made headlines last year for exiting the NBC competition show after one season. Last November Variety reported that a “toxic culture” at the show, including racist jokes and excessive focus on female judges’ appearances, contributed to their departure. For many fans, Union’s exit didn’t make sense especially since she was the highest-performing judge on America’s Got Talent, according to Nielsen ratings.
In an effort to seemingly dismiss Union’s comments, NBC, Fremantle and Syco released a joint statement Wednesday, regarding the outcome of the investigation.
“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 statement read in part. “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.”
The statement provided no detail regarding the shortcomings in the show and network’s “reporting processes” or how they might be improved.
Instead, it concluded, “NBC, Fremantle and Syco share Ms. Union’s dedication to diversity and inclusion in the industry. We continue to remain committed to having an inclusive environment for everyone associated with the show, and to upholding AGT as one of the most diverse programs on television.”