Last week, multiple reports claimed Union was not brought back as a judge on the NBC show after she raised concerns about workplace behaviour and was labeled difficult. One example in a Variety story involved Leno, who appeared on one episode last season.
He allegedly offended some staffers when joking Simon Cowell's dogs looked like something one would find "on the menu at a Korean restaurant."
Union apparently asked producers to report the joke to NBC's human resources, but it was never escalated and the joke was cut prior to air. TMZ caught up with Leno on Sunday night and asked him why he thought Union got fired.
"I love Gabrielle Union, she's a great girl," Leno replied. "I really enjoyed working with her she's really good. She's good."
The paparazzo asked Leno if Union was treated fairly.
"I don't know, I wasn't — you know, I don't know," he said, adding, "but I think she's a great girl."
When asked directly about the purported joke, Leno stayed mum.
Union, who was only a judge for one season, reportedly clashed behind-the-scenes with Cowell. Cowell's company, Syco Entertainment, broke its silence after an unflattering report from Vulture detailed alleged incidents that led to their strained relationship.
"We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture," Syco Entertainment, which produces AGT, said in a joint statement with NBC and production company Fremantle on Sunday. "We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate."
In the wake of the reports, Union has received overwhelming support from her peers and fans. Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo slammed NBC for their "toxic" culture. Ariana Grande tweeted that NBC should "be better." Debra Messing, who stars on NBC's Will & Grace, tweeted "This is disgusting behaviour from a network that has been my professional home for decades. Yes, women become 'difficult,' when their insistence on a respectful and professional working environment, is ignored."
While Union has yet to address the controversy directly, she thanked everyone for their support.
SAG-AFTRA, the labor union that represents American actors and entertainers, has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Union's departure. Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen called out NBC in a statement Monday.
"Gabrielle Union’s experience at America’s Got Talent is exemplary of the double bind that black women face at work. Not only did Union reportedly endure and witness racist and inappropriate behavior — including racially-insensitive comments and excessive criticism about her physical appearance — but it also appears she was punished for speaking out: the company labeled her as 'difficult' before ousting her from the show altogether," Tchen told Variety.
What @itsgabrielleu experienced on set at @nbc’s #AmericasGotTalent is unacceptable.
It’s time for @NBCUniversal to commit to long-term, concrete action to fix its toxic workplace culture and ensure safety and equity for all its workers. Add your name. ⬇️ https://t.co/IgCeQ49PID
— TIME'S UP (@TIMESUPNOW) December 2, 2019
"Union’s story is deeply troubling on its own, but her experience is particularly problematic because it follows a pattern of NBCUniversal protecting the careers of powerful men at the expense of women who speak out. Union’s experience shows that NBCUniversal still has a lot of work to do to change its culture so discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are no longer tolerated at the company. Building a culture of safety and equity requires continuous, intentional work sustained over a long period of time — even when a company isn’t in the throes of a crisis," she continued. "Ensuring people of all kinds are respected and supported at work is critical for any company, but especially a media company like NBC that has such an outsized influence in our culture and in our lives."
[Editor’s note: This post was updated to include the statement by Time’s Up.]