When Women Like Gabrielle Union Are ‘Difficult’

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission takes office, impeachment witness Gordon Sondland is accused of sexual misconduct, and Gabrielle Union is labeled as ‘difficult’ for trying to make her workplace better. Have a lovely Monday. 


- United behind Union. During our Thanksgiving lull here in the U.S., I'll admit, I took a bit of a break from following the news. The one story that roused me from my holiday food coma, however, was this piece about actress and producer Gabrielle Union and a toxic work environment on the NBC show America's Got Talent

Union joined the variety show as a judge in February. When she got there, she says she saw problems: racist jokes (made by guest Jay Leno and judge Howie Mandel), racism in choosing the show's contestants (her colleagues said instead of a 10-year-old black rapper they wanted an act that "America could get behind"), and Simon Cowell's habit of smoking indoors despite complaints. Variety and Vulture both reported the details. 

There were other issues, too. Executives reportedly told Union her hairstyles were "too black." Producers were annoyed that she asked contestants who performed in drag what their preferred pronouns were. After Union made complaints to NBC, Cowell reportedly told her to only lodge them with him directly—avoiding network oversight. It all ended with Union labeled as "difficult" by Cowell's team and her contract going un-renewed. 

Even if you don't watch America's Got Talent (I don't!) or pay attention to the rotating casts of celebrity talent show judges, there are reasons to follow this story. NBC hired Gabrielle Union knowing who she was: someone with a history of standing up for what she believes is right. Union is a longtime activist for survivors of sexual assault and has fought for various causes, from equal pay to Colin Kaepernick. At America's Got Talent, the complaints she brought forward were all in the name of making the workplace more inclusive for everyone. 

NBC, on the other hand, is a workplace most recently known for fostering a toxic environment, from Matt Lauer on the Today show to the network's alleged mishandling of reporting on Harvey Weinstein. In this case, the network and the show's production company Fremantle said in a statement that America's Got Talent "has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show" and that "NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”

And, of course, there's the evergreen story of an opinionated woman getting tagged with the "difficult" label by her bosses. After the news broke about her firing, Union, who is reportedly exploring her legal options against the network, received a groundswell of support from peers in the entertainment business, including NBC stars Jameela Jamil and Debra Messing. "Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone," Union tweeted, "you got me up off the ground." 

Emma Hinchliffe


- Another impeachment investigation. Gordon Sondland is at the center of the impeachment hearings. The U.S. ambassador to the European Union is also accused by three women of sexual misconduct and retaliation, ranging from backing out of investing in one woman's business to screaming at another about her job performance. The women are Portland Monthly publisher Nicole Vogel, executive Jana Solis, and Natalie Sept; Vogel sees "the transactional nature of Sondland’s Ukraine mission" as a "painful reminder" of her own experience with him. Sondland denies the three women's claims. ProPublica/Portland Monthly 

- Profiting off the Epstein case. This story is a must-read on Jeffrey Epstein and the network of powerful men who kept the sexual abuse he perpetrated hidden. This time around, it's the high-powered lawyers. David Boies, who also represented Harvey Weinstein, and John Stanley Pottinger hatched a plan to profit from rumored evidence of Epstein's wealthy friends "in compromising sexual situations—even in the act of rape." By switching from representing victims of Epstein to representing those men, they could extract money instead of bringing that footage to light. New York Times

- Taking office. Ursula von der Leyen's European Commission started work on Sunday after the European Parliament last week approved the new set of commissioners, including Věra Jourová on values and transparency and Ylva Johansson on migration. "We can be the shapers of a better global order," Von der Leyen said ahead of her commission's start. Guardian

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Cartoon Network president Christina Miller will step down; her departure is one of many at WarnerMedia after AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner. 


- Survey says. The New York Times surveys the 2020 Democratic candidates on their specific policies and views on abortion. Find out where each contender stands on issues from repealing the Hyde Amendment to requiring private insurers to cover abortion hereFortune, meanwhile, examines why it will be so difficult to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for most abortions.  

- Reach for the Poles. Barbara Hillary was the first black woman to make it to the North and South Poles. She completed the first feat in 2007, when she was 75, after 55 years as a nurse. Her adventure travel then turned her into an environmental activist. Hillary died this weekend; she was 88. Smithsonian Mag

- Competitive streak. Silicon Valley vet Meg Whitman is now an owner of Major League Soccer team FC Cincinnati. Her 20% minority stake values the club around $500 million. Whitman is the sixth woman on the MLS Board of Governors (five joined within the past two years). Whitman started her career at Cincinnati's Procter & Gamble and two years ago tried to bring an MLS team to Sacramento. Bloomberg

- On pointe. When Charlotte Nebres was 6 years old, she saw Misty Copeland perform as the first female African-American principal at American Ballet Theater. Nebres, 11, is now the first black Marie in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Casting for the ballet included many firsts this year, and Nebres said that she was inspired when she saw Copeland onstage—but that in this production she's most excited for "the end when they’re on the sleigh." New York Times


The quiet protest of Sassy Mom merch The New Yorker

What to expect when the WNBA’s New York Liberty move to the Barclays Center in 2020 Fortune

GE’s new CFO has an $8 million incentive to stay Wall Street Journal


"She’s a good hitting coach, and a good coach, period."

-New York Yankees hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson on why he hired Rachel Balkovec. Balkovec is the first woman hired as a full-time hitting coach for a big league baseball team


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