Ellen DeGeneres’ ‘Be Kind’ ethos was put to the test by an investigation into allegations of workplace misconduct at her talk show. She apologized, yet also defended herself.
Ellen DeGeneres has broken her silence after WarnerMedia launched an internal investigation into allegations of a toxic work environment at her talk show. Following reports from former and current employees who claim they experienced racism, workplace intimidation, and mistreatment by colleagues while working under The Ellen DeGeneres Show host, Ellen apologized in a letter to her staff. However, the 62-year-old talk show host also accused unnamed employees and people who work with her of “misrepresenting” who she is.
“Hey everybody – it’s Ellen. On day one of our show, I told everyone in our first meeting that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be a place of happiness – no one would ever raise their voice, and 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,” Ellen began in the internal memo, which was obtained by our sister website Variety on July 30.
“I could not have the success I’ve had without all of your contributions. My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that,” Ellen continued. “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. Clearly some didn’t. That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
However, Ellen defended herself as she added, “I’m also learning that people who work with me and for me are speaking on my behalf and misrepresenting who I am and that has to stop. As someone who was judged and nearly lost everything for just being who I am, I truly understand and have deep compassion for those being looked at differently, or treated unfairly, not equal, or – worse – disregarded. To think that any one of you felt that way is awful to me.”
Ellen also suggested that changes are being made within her workplace. “It’s been way too long, but we’re finally having conversations about fairness and justice. We all have to be more mindful about the way our words and actions affect others, and I’m glad the issues at our show were brought to my attention,” she wrote. “I promise to do my part in continuing to push myself and everyone around me to learn and grow. It’s important to me and to Warner Bros. that everyone who has something to say can speak up and feels safe doing so.”
Ellen ended her note by apologizing to anyone who didn’t “love working” on her show, and clarified that she would’ve made this announcement “in person” if not for the COVID -19 outbreak. A spokesperson for Warner Bros. also provided the following statement to Variety: “We have identified several staffing changes, along with appropriate measures to address the issues that have been raised, and are taking the first steps to implement them. Warner Bros. and Ellen DeGeneres are all committed to ensuring a workplace based on respect and inclusion. We are confident this course of action will lead us to the right way forward for the show.”
Weeks before the investigation began, Buzzfeed News published allegations of workplace misconduct from 11 unnamed current and employees. Alleged incidents included firings after taking medical leave, senior staff deriding a Black employee with racist comments and insensitive jokes, and staffers being told to never speak to Ellen.
While Ellen herself was not named a perpetrator of the alleged abusive behavior on set, the unnamed employees believed that she needed to “take responsibility.” Her name is on the door, after all. Our sister site Variety reported in April that Ellen’s stage crew was furious by the way they were treated once production went remote-only during the coronavirus lockdown.
More than 30 employees, according to Variety, received no written communication from higher ups about their job status, including working hours and pay, for two days. The show also hired an outside, non-union tech company to help with Ellen’s at-home broadcasts, rather than using the team already on staff. Eventually, nearly all crew members were told that they would be working reduced hours with a 60 percent pay cut. In response to the allegations published by Buzzfeed on July 16, executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner released a joint statement:
“We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience,” they wrote. “It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us. For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen Show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”