Ellen DeGeneres apologized for the toxic culture at her show ahead of a new Buzzfeed report in which several former employees leveled sexual misconduct allegations at top staffers, including executive producer and head writer Kevin Leman, who allegedly asked a male employee for a hand job or oral sex.
Amid growing complaints about the toxicity behind the scenes at the show, DeGeneres vowed to do better, saying that what the workplace has become is not in line with the ethos she created when it premiered in 2003.
In a letter sent to staffers that was originally posted on Variety, DeGeneres wrote:
“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.
“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.
"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. 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.”
The apology follows the news that WarnerMedia has launched an internal investigation into the allegations that will be spearheaded by the company’s employee relations group and a third-party firm. Employees of the long-running talk show were informed via a memo sent by Telepictures and WBTV that current and former employees would be interviewed about the environment at the show whose host has long touted kindness as a rule she lives by.
The report released on Friday revealed complaints from at least a dozen employees against Leman, who has been accused of inappropriate comments in the workplace, including commenting on men’s “bulges” and asking them questions like “Are you a top or a bottom?” Another employee said she saw Leman “grope” a production assistant in his car.
Leman has denied the allegations in a statement:
"I started at the Ellen Show as a PA more than 17 years ago and have devoted my career to work my way to the position I now hold. While my job as head writer is to come up with jokes — and, during that process, we can occasionally push the envelope — I’m horrified that some of my attempts at humor may have caused offense," he said. "I have always aimed to treat everyone on the staff with kindness, inclusivity and respect. In my whole time on the show, to my knowledge, I’ve never had a single HR or inter-personal complaint made about me, and I am devastated beyond belief that this kind of malicious and misleading article could be published."
Executive producer Ed Glavin, who was one of the bosses at the show who said in a joint statement that he takes the allegations about the toxic culture there “very, very seriously,” has also been accused of inappropriate touching at the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Glavin has been accused of managing the team through fear and intimidation while also being “handsy” with women, including rubbing their shoulders and holding them around the waist.
“Even though I was being abused [at work] constantly, Ed putting his arm around you in the control room was like the nicest experience you had all day, as messed up as that sounds,” a female employee told Buzzfeed. “But you had been crying last night and now your segment is going well … and then you feel like you got credit for something from the executive producer directly. … That friendly banter accompanied by a friendly hand.”
Reports regarding the working conditions on DeGeneres’s show included a story early in the pandemic as filming ceased and eventually went virtual that at least 30 crew members had not been contacted for more than a month regarding the status of their pay or their hours. The crew was restored to full pay, and producers blamed the lack of communication on confusion during the pandemic.
A recent story painted a damning picture of workplace culture on DeGeneres’s show. One of the numerous employees who spoke off the record was a Black woman who said she’d dealt with “racist comments, actions, and microagressions” during her tenure there. One former employee said they were fired for creating a GoFundMe page to cover medical costs the company wouldn’t, while others spoke of experiencing stress and depression related to the culture there.
Blame for the environment at DeGeneres’s show fell on executive producers and senior management, but one former employee said that DeGeneres should be more involved, especially since her name is attached.
Executive producers Glavin, Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner released a statement at the time of the Buzzfeed report saying they take the allegations “very, very seriously.”
"Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment," they said. "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,” they added.