Attorneys Unpack Workplace Discrimination Claims at Ellen Show
Ellen DeGeneres’ eponymous hit television series “The Ellen DeGeneres show” was famously known as “a place of happiness,” but now that mantra has taken an ironic turn as 11 anonymous employees claim that the show is a toxic, discriminatory place to work.
While working on the show, the employees claim they experienced racial discrimination, sexual misconduct and were even instructed to not speak to DeGeneres if she was ever seen around the office. A Black woman anonymously told Buzzfeed News in July of this year about the “microaggressions” that she experienced as a former employee of DeGeneres. A senior-level producer told her and another Black employee, “Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.” In another incident at a work party, one of the show’s writers told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here.”
DeGeneres has made millions off her motto to “be kind,” but according to some of the show’s employees, the workplace culture at the show, which is housed on the Warner Brothers studio lot in Hollywood, is just the opposite. “Ellen” executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner claim to take the employee’s stories “very seriously.”
“Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,” the executive producers said in a statement to Buzzfeed News. “We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.”
However, when the anonymous employee mentioned above voiced her concerns about racial issues and misrepresentation on the show, her coworkers began referring to her as “the PC police.”
DeGeneres recently wrote a letter of apology to her staff, expressing her disappointment in the way things have unfolded on set.
“I could not have the success I’ve had without all of your contributions,” she wrote in a statement originally reported by Variety. “My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that. Alongside Warner Bros., we immediately began an internal investigation and we are taking steps, together, to correct the issues.
“As we’ve grown exponentially, I’ve not been able to stay on top of everything and relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I’d want them done.,” DeGeneres continued. “Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
While DeGeneres and Warner Bros. claim to be making steps to rectify the issues and have launched a formal investigation against the company, if these employees wanted to take legal action, they would be valid in doing so. Even though DeGeneres is the face of both the show and the company, if she was unaware of the harassment that occurred, the blame would fall on the company’s culpable higher-ups, not DeGeneres directly.
Adam M. Porter, a Birmingham-based attorney who specializes in worker’s rights, weighed in on the degree of DeGeneres’ liability in these claims.
“I think it would be difficult to put personal liability on her for them doing it,” Porter said. “Perhaps if these employees could prove that she was aware of it – possibly. I think that’s going to depend on her relationship with the production company.”
Brooke Davis, an associate attorney for Beckum Law LLC in Birmingham, broke down the steps that the show’s former employees would have to go through to successfully sue the company with a Title VII case. Title VII statutes are federal laws that protect employees from different types of discrimination.
“Before you can actually bring a lawsuit against a company for race or gender discrimination, you have to go through the EEOC first,” Davis said.
The EEOC, otherwise known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, monitors employers to ensure they are abiding by federal laws that protect employees.
“After a charge is filed, your case is assigned to an investigator,” Davis said. “That investigator will conduct an investigation, and at the end, they will make a determination. The most important thing about a determination is a section called ‘A Right to Sue.’ That is what you have to have to file a federal lawsuit.”
The investigation against DeGeneres and the production company is still underway but stay tuned to this site for updates as they become available.