Anyone who spends much time anywhere near the topic of Ellen DeGeneres on social media tends to pick up a few horror stories pretty quickly; it’s not for nothing that a Twitter post from this March, promising a food bank donation for every “Ellen being mean” story told, ended up getting more than 2,000 responses. Regardless of whatever motivation you want to ascribe to it—or the accuracy of the tales themselves—there’s a satisfaction in being told that America’s most aggressively smile-y talk show host is a lot less pleasant in person than she is when she’s busy dancing around the studio or catching a ball game with her ol’ pal George.
It’s to the credit of a Buzzfeed News article posted earlier tonight, then, that it knowingly resists that satisfaction. Instead, the article—written by Krystie Lee Yandoli, and featuring anonymous reports from 10 former Ellen employees (and one current one)—focuses on the show as a workplace, levying accusations of racist behavior, hostility to criticism, and a general description of the place as a toxic work environment. Where it’s critical of DeGeneres, it’s not because she threw an intern out a window for making eye contact or whatever, but for her alleged failures as an executive producer on the series: “If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on,” one former employee stated, suggesting that DeGeneres is insulated by higher-ups from any complaints about what working at the series is like.
Those complaints include a general push for conformity, and multiple instances of an employee being reprimanded by management for raising issues—like, say, pointing out that “spirit animal” is a term loaded with problems of cultural appropriation, and maybe shouldn’t be used in the series’ segments. The same employee who raised those issues, a Black woman, says she was also reprimanded by series producer Ed Glavin for asking for a raise (after finding out she was being paid significantly less than coworkers in the same position), and for suggesting that employees could benefit from diversity and inclusiveness training. She later walked off the job, and said she “has no plans to ever work in the entertainment industry again.”
Besides touching on issues raised back in April—when employees were vocal about a lack of communication from management about how the series would handle the transition to filming remotely due to the COVID-19 lockdowns—the report also mentions more than one occasion in which an employee was penalized for taking medical leave or worked remotely while attending a funeral. “That’s the definition of a toxic work environment,” one person said, “Where they make you feel like you’re going insane and then you’re like, no, everything I was feeling was right. It was all leading up to this.”
The Buzzfeed piece also includes a joint statement from Glavin and fellow producers Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner, stating that they take the claims in question “Very seriously.”
Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1,000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment. We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. 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.
There’s no direct response from DeGeneres herself, although, as the piece itself suggests, that’s really kind of the point.