Dozens of former staffers on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” have alleged that top executives who work behind the scenes have engaged in sexual misconduct with lower-level employees — including one who asked for a hand job and oral sex, according to a new report.
BuzzFeed News reported Thursday that it spoke with 36 former employees of DeGeneres’ eponymous show, many of whom corroborated incidents of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault.
All of the former staffers, many of whom left the show voluntarily, declined to be identified amid fears of retribution, the news outlet reported.
One of them alleged that head writer and executive producer Kevin Leman requested a hand job and oral sex from him in a bathroom during a company party in 2013, BuzzFeed News reported.
Another ex-employee described seeing Leman grab the penis of a production assistant, according to the bombshell report.
And yet another person said she witnessed Leman grope a production assistant inside a vehicle and kiss his neck in May 2017, the outlet reported.
Multiple former employees — running the gamut from senior-level honchos to lowly production assistants — also alleged that Leman would make sexually explicit comments in the office, including pointing out male workers’ bulges in their crotches, or ask them questions such as, “Are you a top or a bottom?”
“It’s masked in sarcasm, but it’s not sarcasm,” an ex-staffer told BuzzFeed.
Another former employee said: “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.”
Leman responded to the shocking allegations by forcefully denying “any kind of sexual impropriety.”
“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,” he told BuzzFeed in a statement.
“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,” Leman continued.
“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.”
Warner Bros. declined to respond to specific allegations, citing an ongoing internal probe that it launched after an earlier report by the outlet in which current and former staffers said they faced racism, fear and intimidation on the job.
But in a statement to BuzzFeed on Thursday, the studio said it “hoped to determine the validity and extent of publicly reported allegations and to understand the full breadth of the show’s day-to-day culture.”
Warner Bros. continued: “It was important to both Warner Bros. and Ellen that as many people as possible attached to the program could be heard.
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show is, and has always strived to be, a place that brings positivity to the world. And though not all of the allegations were corroborated, we are disappointed that the primary findings of the investigation indicated some deficiencies related to the show’s day-to-day management.
“We have identified several staffing changes, along with appropriate measures to address the issues that have been raised, and are taking the first steps to implement them.”
On Thursday, the beleaguered talk show host addressed allegations of a “toxic” workplace culture in a staff memo, saying she plans to “correct” issues raised about improper behind-the-scenes behavior.
“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,” the 62-year-old wrote. “That will now change and I’m committed to ensuring this does not happen again.”
While she did not list specific actions that will be taken, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the show’s executive producer, Ed Glavin, will be let go.
The program had faced allegations of both racism and intimidation, and showrunners had said they were “truly heartbroken” to learn about the issues.
In DeGeneres’ staff message, she expressed “compassion” for the workers who opened up.
Among the raft of allegations made to BuzzFeed News, five former staffers also said executive producer Ed Glavin touched them in creepy ways by rubbing their shoulders and back, as well as placing his hand around their lower waist.
Dozens of former people told BuzzFeed that Glavin “had a reputation for being handsy with women,” especially in the control room.
“You could definitely see the creep factor and the creepy touching. That was out in the open for everybody to see,” said one former staffer, adding that Glavin regularly touched her in the show’s control room.
“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,” the ex-employee told BuzzFeed.
Another erstwhile worker alleged that Glavin would summon producers and assistants to sit near him and touched them inappropriately when the show was filming segments they had worked on.
“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,” she told the outlet.
“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.”
In all, 47 former staffers also accused executive producer of leading with intimidation and fear.
Glavin did not immediately respond to a request for comment by BuzzFeed News.
Meanwhile, another ex-employee described how co-executive producer Jonathan Norman took him to concerts and other work-related events before trying to perform oral sex on him one night.
Three of the ex-staffers former colleagues corroborated that he told them about the incident at the time.
“We’re young people who were forming our careers and were unfortunately subjected to a toxic work environment as some of our first jobs out of college,” the former worker told BuzzFeed News. “And some of us were sexually harassed and that’s what was shaping our careers our first year out of school.”
Thursday night that he is “100% categorically denying these allegations.”
“I have never had a single complaint against me in my career. I have never ‘groomed’ anyone,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Former staffers also alleged that senior-level producers pressured them not to go to human resources at the show’s parent company.
“There was no such thing as a confidential conversation,” a former employee told BuzzFeed. “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.”
A former Warner Brothers employee who worked on the show said the company “turns a blind eye” to the allegations because the series “is a cash cow.
“Warner Brothers has a responsibility not just to the people who work on The Ellen Show, but to its viewers and its shareholders to make sure people are protected on the job, and that they’re not harassed, and they’re not working in an environment that is toxic and unhealthy,” the person told BuzzFeed.