Report: Sexual Harassment Accusations Hit Beleaguered 'Ellen Show'

Friday July 31, 2020

"Are you a top or a bottom?"

That is a question expected on a hook-up site, but not in an office setting. Yet it wasn't unusual for "Ellen Show" head writer and executive producer Kevin Leman to ask the question to junior staff in the office according to (another) bombshell BuzzFeed News report on the toxic work environment on the show.

And the question was "masked in sarcasm, but it's not sarcasm," the former employee said.

In their report, BuzzFeed News spoke to 36 employees "many of whom independently corroborated incidents of harassment, sexual misconduct, and assault from top producers like Leman. All of the ex-employees, many of whom had voluntarily left the show, asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution."

Amongst the accusations against Leman was from one ex-employee who said "Leman asked him if he could give him a hand job or perform oral sex in a bathroom at a company party in 2013. Another said they separately saw Leman grab a production assistant's penis."

According to another staff member Leman intimidated junior staff with his comments. "He'd probably do it in front of 10 people and they'd laugh because 'it's just Kevin being Kevin,' but if you're in a position of power at a company, you don't just get to touch me like that."

But Leman is not the only high level staff member to be accused of such behavior. "Five employees said executive producer Ed Glavin touched them in a way that made them uncomfortable by rubbing their shoulders and back, as well as placing his hand around their lower waist," reports BuzzFeed News.

Glavin was also cited by dozens of former employees of having "a reputation for being handsy with women," and managing the team through "fear and intimidation."

One of his victims said "you could definitely see the creep factor and the creepy touching. That was out in the open for everybody to see... Obviously, no one wants that and no one wants to be uncomfortably touched by someone ... but you didn't want to piss them off or you would be fired, so it was just that culture of fear."

And some of who came forward appear to be suffering from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome syndrome, finding Glavin's comforting embrace in the control room "the nicest experience you had all day, as messed up as that sounds," she said. "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."

Glavin was the most intimidating of senior staff, according to the 36 employees interviewed by BuzzFeed News. Five said that during reprimands he would remotely lock shut his office door; another said that when they resigned, he flipped over a table and chair while screaming.

His use of his office shower also made junior employees uncomfortable. "You'd be going into his office for an important meeting and the shower door is open and you're like, that's a little weird," a former employee said.

Another senior staff member, co-executive producer Jonathan Norman, mentored a male staffer by taking him to concerts and other work-related perks. Then "one night attempted to perform oral sex on him. Three of the employee's former colleagues on the show corroborated that he told them about the incident at the time and said they have discussed it in the years since."

In his own defense, Leman said "I'm horrified that some of my attempts at humor may have caused offense," and in his 17 years on the show has "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."

Norman also denied the allegations, citing his unblemished HR record. "I have never done anything to harm another staff member. Ever. The person I believe you are referring to has ulterior motives for bringing down the show and has been acting with malice towards the show."

Yet according to BuzzFeed News former employees "said there was no formal process to confidentially file complaints, and that senior-level producers pressured them not to go to HR at the show's parent company."

"There was no such thing as a confidential conversation," a former employee told BuzzFeed News. "There was no clear direction that if something happens to you, you go to this person, it will remain confidential, and you will not be retaliated against."

And a former Warner Brothers employee who worked on the show said the company "turns a blind eye" to the alleged misconduct because the series "is a cash cow."

For their part, Warner Brothers began an investigations into staff complaints earlier this week, and Ellen issued an apology yesterday in which she said she took responsibility for her senior staff's actions, adding: "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," she added. "That will now change and I'm committed to ensuring this does not happen again."

But the employees that came forward feel that she is being disingenuous. "For someone who's so involved in the show and the creative aspect, and having been in those meetings with her, it's very hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that she doesn't hear the same whispers... Unless she really is just in this bubble."

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