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"Ellen Show" Executives Knew Of Toxic Workplace Allegations In 2018

A spokesperson for Warner Bros. said an outside investigator found no merit to the claims of gender discrimination.

Posted on August 25, 2020, at 1:30 p.m. ET

Chris Pizzello / AP

Executives behind The Ellen DeGeneres Show knew of allegations of sexism and a toxic work environment two years ago, long before three top producers were fired last week after being accused by dozens of former employees of sexual misconduct and harassment.

One current and one former employee said a complaint was filed with an industry union in 2018 that alleged gender discrimination, including sexist remarks made by top producers.

BuzzFeed News is not naming the union at the request of both sources who cited fear of retribution. A representative for the union also did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the show’s distributor, Warner Bros., confirmed the 2018 complaint in a statement, but added that “there is nothing new or noteworthy about this issue.”

“It was investigated by an outside investigator and resolved with no merit to claims of gender discrimination,” the spokesperson said. “As previously stated, we are committed to changing the things that need to change and moving forward in a constructive and positive way.”

We want your help! If you have more information or a tip regarding workplace culture on The Ellen Degeneres Show or in Hollywood, contact krystie.yandoli@buzzfeed.com, or reach us securely at tips.buzzfeed.com.

The existence of this previous investigation, though, has left many Ellen employees skeptical of the new, ongoing investigation into the toxic work culture on the show. Some former employees also called the current investigation a “publicity ploy.”

Earlier this month, executive producers Ed Glavin, Kevin Leman, and co-executive producer Jonathan Norman were fired in the wake of two BuzzFeed News reports detailing a range of allegations from current and former employees that included sexual misconduct, harassment, racism, and a hostile work environment.

And while some say these staffing changes are a step in the right direction, others told BuzzFeed News they’re disappointed something wasn’t done sooner to improve work conditions when executives at The Ellen Show and Warner Bros. were aware of the 2018 investigation.

Following BuzzFeed News’ initial report in mid-July in which current and former employees described a toxic work environment and said they faced racism, fear, and intimidation, WarnerMedia launched an internal investigation conducted by a third party. David McGuire, executive vice president of programming at Warner Bros., told employees in an email on Monday that the current investigation “is nearing its conclusion.”

“This should’ve never happened to begin with. It should’ve never gotten to the point where these people were unchecked and had that kind of power,” one former employee said. “It starts at the top. It starts with Ellen, it starts with Warner Bros., and the culture they create and the culture they allow.”

BuzzFeed News has spoken to two current and 71 former employees at The Ellen DeGeneres Show who called the workplace environment toxic and said they experienced sexist, racist, and inappropriate behavior from top managers behind the scenes. Dozens of former employees also said sexual harassment and misconduct were rampant at the show. All of the ex-employees asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution.

On Monday, DeGeneres addressed employees in a video conference call along with executive producers Mary Connelly, Andy Lassner, and Derek Westervelt, all of whom vowed changes moving forward. DeGeneres also apologized to staffers in an email on July 30, saying the show was supposed to be a place of “happiness” where “everyone would be treated with respect.”

“Obviously, something changed, and I am disappointed to learn that this has not been the case. And for that, I am sorry. Anyone who knows me knows it’s the opposite of what I believe and what I hoped for our show,” DeGeneres wrote.

Leman said in a prior statement to BuzzFeed News that he categorically denied "any kind of sexual impropriety." Norman also said he was "100% categorically denying these allegations." Glavin has not responded to requests for comment.

Glavin’s departure from the show was no small feat, according to current and former employees, considering his extreme levels of power and influence. But they’re also saying this “step in the right direction” was “long overdue and should’ve happened a lot sooner.”

Other former employees said they’re “cautiously optimistic” that Glavin’s absence from the control room and production offices will improve the workplace culture, but they’re also skeptical that his influence is gone for good.

“Saying ‘we parted ways,’ that’s not enough,” one former employee said. “Are they just going to move Ed [Glavin] to the next Telepictures show?”

According to current and former employees, the toxicity at the Ellen Show went beyond Glavin. Former employees say executive producers Mary Connelly, Andy Lassner, and Derek Westervelt also helped shape the culture for years, which is why they said it’s “not going to change overnight.”

“They let Ed [Glavin] run the show for a long time and they were very content to take a back seat, so now they’re gonna have to steer the ship,” one former employee said. “They’ve seen it all for the 17 years that they’ve been there. It’s not like they don't know what happened.”

Connelly, Lassner, and Westervelt did not respond to requests for comment.

Many employees were shocked to see that DeGeneres herself appeared in the videoconference given her mostly hands-off approach to the day-to-day operation in the past. The shift was a sign of positive changes to come, according to employees. The talk show host and current executive producers, as well as Warner Bros. executives, have promised improvements in the overall culture, specifically when it comes to communication, a direct line to a Warner Bros. human resources representative, and training and resources for managers. The show is also giving employees five paid days off as well as a paid day off for birthdays and for doctor’s appointments. These new processes will continue to unfold in the coming weeks and months, according to an email McGuire sent to staff.

But former employees remain skeptical.

“Four out of the five people who make up your upper management, 80% of your upper management, are still there,” one former employee said. “Now Ellen can go on and rescue her brand.”

Former employees also said they want Warner Bros. and Telepictures to be accountable for their role in the work environment at The Ellen Show. In its statement about the current internal investigation, Warner Bros. said it was “disappointed that the primary findings of the investigation indicated some deficiencies related to the show’s day-to-day management.”

“There's a lot of work to be done that I would like to see come from the highest place in Warner Bros. as a company,” one former employee said. “Show the rest of the company and the rest of these employees that there is going to be a change and prove it.”

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