Allegations of a toxic workplace on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, as well as claims that three executive producers engaged in sexual misconduct, staff members say they want higher-ups to be held accountable while they worry about their own fates.
One current longtime employee told BuzzFeed News they feel “vindicated” that the show’s parent company and DeGeneres addressed the staff this week. But after working on the popular daytime talk show for years, they’re skeptical about major fixes the show can make to improve the culture.
“It’s not just one bad seed, it’s all of them,” the employee, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said. “When you’ve worked on a show for so long, and so many of us have kept quiet for all of these years, you just want to scream and be like, ‘Fuck The Ellen Show.’ It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Warner Bros. launched an internal investigation after a BuzzFeed News report in mid-July that detailed allegations from former employees that they endured racism, fear, and intimidation from top managers.
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DeGeneres also sent a letter to staffers on Thursday saying that despite the fact that 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.”
She added that she had come to rely on others to stay on top of the day-to-day operation, but said: “My name is on the show and everything we do and I take responsibility for that.”
Later that day, BuzzFeed News reported that three executive producers — Ed Glavin, Jonathan Norman, and Kevin Leman — engaged in sexual misconduct with lower-level employees. The allegations included groping, inappropriate touching, and soliciting oral sex from staffers.
Norman and Leven strongly denied the allegations. Glavin did not respond to a request for comment.
Some employees are hopeful about possible changes and say the recent reports have inspired staffers to speak more openly with one another. One employee said in order to feel more comfortable in the workplace, “we need a direct line to HR immediately” from the onboarding process onward.
“We need someone who’s actually on our side in a corporate environment,” the employee said. “Because even now, we have an internal investigation going on and it is really tough to feel confident to talk to them. They say they’re on our side, but the amount of exit interviews Warner does for us, they’ve heard all these complaints in these exit interviews…why did it take all these years for it to come forward?”
The longtime current employee said they want to see everyone in positions of power held accountable for perpetuating and remaining complicit in what they called a toxic work environment.
“This is a time in the world where people need to see no matter how much power you have, no matter what title or position you are in, and if you think you’re untouchable, it can be gone in a flash,” the employee said. “It’s going to be a hard lesson. It’s a hard lesson for all of us.”
Without much clarity about findings from WarnerMedia’s ongoing internal investigation, updates on the employment statuses of executive producers, or DeGeneres’s return, employees said they’re also “very afraid of losing our jobs” while people in leadership positions “will be financially fine, essentially.”
“They have enough to retire or to disappear without any further ramifications, meanwhile the lower-level employees might be without a paycheck that we really need in a pandemic,” one employee said. “It’s really tough to sacrifice that for the truth to be out there, but people think the truth really matters.”
Another employee said they and their colleagues had dedicated their careers to the show despite the alleged abuses, only to possibly be left with nothing if the show is canceled.
“And I just think that’s very selfish from somebody who blasted ‘be kind to one another’ every day.”
An employee in Ellen Digital Ventures sent an email, obtained by BuzzFeed News, to the entire Ellen staff and Warner Bros. HR representatives on Friday addressing the fact that “the work day is almost over and there is no company-wide communication on the sexual harassment allegations or about the rumors that the show is going to be canceled.”
The employee also wrote that employees “need communication from someone at the top,” referencing Variety’s April story about lack of communication when the coronavirus quarantine began.
The lengthy email also included a list of demands for executives to address and improve upon, including sexual harassment prevention, diversity, health, income inequality, and work life balance.
“What was one of the first pieces of bad press about this year? It was about a lack of communication when we transitioned to work-from-home because of the pandemic,” she added. “We’ve seen a lot of people make statements about wanting to do better. Promising to do better, to learn from the mistakes of the past. I want to believe that this is possible too.
“Today was an opportunity for us as a company to prove that we have learned from that mistake, and that we care about our employees. It’s time to say something.”
In an email to employees Friday night, executive producer Andy Lassner said his colleagues know “these last few days have been a lot take in and process,” and that management would update the staff “when we can” ahead of production for the upcoming season in the coming weeks.