Gabrielle Union is speaking out for the first time about her experience working on America's Got Talent that led to her exit after one season.
The 47-year-old actress was a judge on season 14 of the NBC talent show before her departure in November. A Variety report later claimed that Union had expressed concern about the show's "toxic culture" to NBC's Human Resources department. Although NBC and Fremantle responded to the report at the time with a statement praising AGT's long history of "inclusivity and diversity" and said that Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough's exits were part of the routine cycling out of judges on the show, Union's husband, Dwyane Wade, claimed on Twitter that she was fired.
In a new Variety interview published on Wednesday, Union talks directly about her experience at AGT. She says the problems started right from her first moments on set, when show creator and judge Simon Cowell smoked in front of her even though she's severely allergic. She claims she addressed it with producers, who said that nothing was going to be done -- even though it directly affected her ability to do her job.
"[I was] coming on to 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," she says of Cowell's smoking. "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. It impacted my voice, which affects my ability to do my job."
Union says her having a constant runny nose also affected judge Howie Mandel, who sat by her onstage, due to his well-known germophobia.
"It was challenging to tend to my illness without being made to feel like I'm responsible for my own sickness," she says. "It put me in a position from day one where I 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."
In a statement to Variety, Cowell's spokesperson says that when he was made aware of the smoking complaint during the first couple of days of the season, he "immediately changed his behavior and the issue was never raised again."
Meanwhile, in a joint statement to ET on Wednesday, show producers Fremantle and Syco as well as NBC also said that they "immediately engaged an outside investigator who conducted more than 30 interviews to review the issues raised by Ms. Union. While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved."