The controversy surrounding Gabrielle Union’s departure from ‘‘America’s Got Talent’’ has now sparked an investigation by the largest performers union.
SAG-AFTRA said in a statement provided to media outlets Sunday that it has ‘‘taken steps’’ to investigate reports that Union was let go from the NBC reality competition series after raising several concerns about racially insensitive behavior and material.
‘‘We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously. We immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light,’’ the statement reads. ‘‘It is our practice to work closely with members who reach out to us and their representatives in instances like this, as that usually affords the best protection and best resolution for the affected member.’’
‘‘Our enforcement action is usually handled confidentially to protect the member involved,’’ the statement continued, ‘‘and we typically do not publicize these matters unless the member requests that we do so.’’
Union and Julianne Hough joined AGT’s 14th season as judges, replacing Mel B and Heidi Klum. In November, Deadline reported that the two newcomers would not be returning for the 15th season next summer. (“America’s Got Talent: The Champions’’ returns Jan. 6, and does include Klum as a judge.)
Speculation immediately surrounded the departures. Entertainment writer B. Scott reported that Union was fired after her speaking up over ‘‘problematic’’ situations. Then Variety, citing anonymous sources described as ‘‘multiple insiders familiar with the show,’’ reported last week that Union urged producers to report to NBC’s human resources department a racially insensitive joke delivered by a guest during an interstitial segment.
The outlet also reported that, in a separate incident, Union urged that a white male contestant be removed from the lineup due to how he portrayed people of color.
NBC and production companies Syco Entertainment and Fremantle addressed the reports in a joint statement Sunday. ‘‘We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,’’ the statement read. ‘‘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.’’
Only once before has a judge departed AGT after a single season, Deadline reported. (Sharon Osbourne replaced Brandy Norwood after the first season.)
Last week, a joint statement from the network and producers attributed AGT’s popularity in part to regularly changing lineups of the hosts and judges.
Union has not directly addressed the controversy in public. (Her representatives did not return The Washington Post’s inquiries.) But the day after the Variety report published, the actress tweeted about the support she’s received and, later, about how to apologize correctly.
Union’s husband, former NBA player Dwyane Wade, tweeted: ‘‘when I got the news that my wife was being fired - my first question was obviously why!? I am still waiting on a good answer to that question.’’ He added that Union is ‘‘an advocate for our community and culture.’’
Howard Stern, who served as a judge on AGT from Season 7 through Season 10, spoke about the controversy during his SiriusXM show Monday, accusing executive producer Simon Cowell of double standards for male and female judges. Stern called the NBC competition series ‘‘the ultimate example of a boys’ club.’’
Other celebrities have publicly thrown their support behind Union. Actress Patricia Arquette responded to Union’s tweet about feeling gratitude for the public support. ‘‘I’m just catching up on this. This is terrible,’’ Arquette wrote. ‘‘You should not be penalized for trying to have a workplace that honors the rule of law in the workplace.’’
Debra Messing, star of ‘‘Will & Grace,’’ tweeted that ‘‘this is disgusting behavior from a network that has been my professional home for decades. Yes, women become ‘difficult,’ when their insistence on a respectful and professional working environment, is ignored.’’
Tina Tchen, the chief executive of Time’s Up, which is an organization advocating for workplaces free from harassment that was founded in the wake of the #MeToo movement, said in a statement Monday that the Variety report ‘‘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.’’
This isn’t the first time the NBC show has faced criticism for its handling of issues related to race. Former AGT host Nick Cannon left the series in 2017 after he said the network threatened to fire him over telling a joke that used the n-word in a stand-up comedy special.