Ten former and one current employee of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” have added their voices to growing complaints that the “Be Kind” talk show host actually presides over a “toxic” set, rife with bullying and racism.
The employees detail incidents in which they say they were sidelined, disciplined or fired for speaking up about discrimination, taking a mental health leave, attending family funerals or setting up a GoFundMe page to cover medical costs not covered by their workplace health insurance.
The claims come in a new article by BuzzFeed News and follow previous reports that counter the friendly, compassionate image that DeGeneres and her long-running show like to project through highly publicized cash give-aways and other acts of charity.
“That ‘be kind’ (expletive) only happens when the cameras are on,” one former employee told BuzzFeed News. “I know they give money to people and help them out, but it’s for show.”
One former Black employee claimed she was the subject of racist microaggressions and abuse over an 18-month period.
Soon after the employee was hired she said she was told by a senior producer that “I hope we don’t get confused” by the fact two Black employees have box braids. The former employee also said one of the main writers jokingly told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here,” while coworkers “awkwardly laughed it off” instead of coming to her defense.
When the former employee started to speak up about discrimination, she said her colleagues distanced themselves. A white male boss, meanwhile, told her he had “some random Black friend” who had “managed to get over” such concerns.
In a joint statement to BuzzFeed News, executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner said they take the complaints from employees “very seriously.” They said the day-to-day responsibility for running the show is theirs, while noting that the show has taped more than 3,000 episodes and employed more than 1,000 people since 2003.
—We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience,” the statement read. “It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.”
There have been rumors for years that DeGeneres is a difficult and even inconsiderate boss, along with testimonials on social media and reports in the entertainment press about her alleged behind-the-scenes meanness.
These reports are consistent with “the tinge of mean-spiritedness” that comes through in her interviews and segments on her show, the Daily Beast reported in April. For DeGeneres, being the “Queen of Nice” and “relatable” is an intrinsic part of her brand, the Daily Beast said.
But in April, more than 30 people who long worked behind the scenes on the show went to Variety to air complaints about how the show handled switching to taping remotely, due to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.
Stage crew members said they were left without work while the show was taped from one of DeGeneres’ Southern California mansions. They alleged that top-level producers didn’t commute details about their jobs and how they would be paid during the shelter in place. More recently, DeGeneres’ former bodyguard said he had a negative experience with her at the 2014 Oscars, calling the TV host’s treatment of others “demeaning,” BuzzFeed News reported.
DeGeneres also came under fire when she joked on her show that being in coronavirus lockdown in her multimillion-dollar Santa Barbara home “is like being in jail.” The joke was considered particularly insensitive because jail and prison inmates are packed into small cells and units where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is especially high.
In March, comedian and podcast host Kevin T. Porter launched a viral Twitter thread, based on the argument that DeGeneres is “notoriously one of the meanest people alive.” Porter’s post, to raise money for the Los Angeles Food Bank, began with, “Right now we all need a little kindness. You know, like Ellen Degeneres always talks about!”
Porter’s tweet garnered more than 69,000 likes and numerous first-, second-, and third-hand stories, yet to be confirmed, about DeGeneres being indifferent, snooty, or vindictive, from refusing to make eye contact with interns to almost getting a waitress fired for having a chipped nail to actually getting a “slightly autistic” but friendly custodian fired for forgetting that he wasn’t supposed to look at or speak to her.
In the BuzzFeed News report, the employees blame the executive producers more than DeGeneres for the “toxic” set, though they also said DeGeneres should pay more attention to how her employees are treated.
“If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on,” one ex-employee told BuzzFeed News.
Another former employee told BuzzFeed News that their position was eliminated after taking medical leave for a month to check into a mental health facility.
“You’d think that if someone just tried to kill themselves, you don’t want to add any more stress to their lives,” the employee said. Four other employees and medical records corroborated the employee’s claim, BuzzFeed News said.
Another former employee said they lost their job after taking time from work for three occasions: after being in a car accident, after working remotely for two days to attend a family member’s funeral and after taking three days off to attend another relative’s funeral.
“That’s the definition of a toxic work environment, where they make you feel like you’re going insane and then you’re like, no, everything I was feeling was right. It was all leading up to this,” the former staffer told BuzzFeed News.
A third former employee told BuzzFeed News they were given a warning for creating a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for medical costs that weren’t covered by the company’s health insurance — and sharing that campaign on social media. The employee was told that such a public campaign could hurt DeGeneres’ image.
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