On Tuesday’s episode of her Tamron Hall talk show, Hall weighed in on Union’s recent exit from the series and came to the defense of her fellow TV host, who has reportedly been described as “difficult” for speaking up about issues she had on the NBC reality talent competition show.
“[Difficult] is the go-to word. It’s a trope when it comes to women. We are difficult, black women are angry and difficult,” said Hall, 49. “I have in this business watched men storm out of rooms, puffing and huffing, and no one says anything. A woman speaks up, you’re difficult. We just did a show on likeability trap, that women are always in this likability trap.”
“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 said Monday.
In mid-November, news broke that Union, 47, and fellow judge Julianne Hough — who joined season 14 of AGT back in February, replacing spots vacated by Mel B and Heidi Klum — would not be returning for the show’s upcoming 15th season. (It has yet to be announced who will replace Hough and Union for the upcoming season.)
Then on Nov. 26, Variety published a report claiming that in addition to Union expressing concerns over racially insensitive situations on the Simon Cowell executive-produced show, she and Hough, 31, were both subjected to “excessive notes” on their physical appearance, sources alleged to the outlet.
Hough has since denied having a negative experience working on AGT, saying she had a “wonderful time” on the show. She is appearing in two upcoming holiday specials on the network.
The report also alleged that guest judge Jay Leno made an inappropriate joke that was later edited out of his episode.
Leno, 69, addressed the allegations for the first time on Monday, telling TMZ, “I love Gabrielle Union. She’s a great girl. I really enjoyed working with her. She’s really good.”
When the comedian was asked if Union was treated fairly on the hit competition series, Leno said, “I don’t know … but I think she’s a great girl.”
Representatives for Hough, Union and Leno have not responded to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
Additionally, according to multiple reports, Union allegedly complained that fellow judge Cowell, 60, was smoking indoors, which is illegal in California where AGT films. She is allergic to cigarette smoke.
On the allegations that Cowell was lighting up on set, Hall said on Tuesday’s Tamron Hall episode, “again, bringing up this allegation of smoking, I know people can say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But it is illegal and it speaks to what powerful people are allowed to do that others are not. If, again, let me stress, [I] wasn’t there, but if it’s true, yeah it can seem like something’s that nothing, but no other employee could do that if what is alleged is true.”
In a statement on Sunday, Cowell’s Syco Entertainment, which produces AGT, released a joint statement with NBC and production company Fremantle. “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” said the statement, obtained by PEOPLE.
On Monday, Howard Stern, who previously served as a judge on AGT for four seasons from 2012 through 2015, hinted at Cowell’s allegedly questionable behavior on the show, both slamming and accusing him of having “orchestrated” Union’s firing.
“How is it that Simon Cowell has orchestrated this?” said Stern, 65. “He sets it up that the men stay, no matter how ugly they are, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how talentless they are.”
“But what he manages to do on all his shows is he constantly replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks. Which is so obvious,” Stern added.
A rep for Cowell did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment regarding Stern’s remarks.
Like Union, Hall has also had grievances with NBC — the network she called home before her abrupt exit from the Today show in February 2017, when she said goodbye to the morning show shortly after it was announced that she would be losing her time slot to Megyn Kelly (who has since departed the network).
While the departure was difficult for Hall, it paved the path for two of her life’s greatest blessings: her husband and their baby boy.
“I never thought I’d have to lose everything to gain even more, but I lost my spot and I gained a husband who roots for me,” she told PEOPLE in May of husband Steven Greener, “a beautiful baby boy who looks at me like I’m his entire world and not just his milk source, and I have a phenomenal daytime talk show team who every time we’re on the phone, they just want the best for me and I want the best for them.”
“It’s just great,” she added. “But two and a half years ago, when I walked out of that building in black patent leather boots and a black-and-white jacket, I was in a fog. I thought, ‘Wow, is this how it goes down?’ Not knowing that so many of us lose things we think are important, and you have no idea that something better is right there. You’ve just got to persevere.”
And persevere is exactly what she did.
“I decided to take a leap of faith,” Hall previously told PEOPLE. “I knew I would have to trust my gut and that I could be a part of something that would reflect who I am as a person, as a journalist, as a woman.”
Although her road to happiness has been painful at times — “I leaned on my friends, my family. I cried. They weren’t pity cries; it was the reality of fear,” she explained of her NBC exit — she is thankful for the losses.
“I’m from the South, and there’s a saying: ‘It’s not a setback; it’s a setup for something else.’ That loss set me up for, yes, a dream job but also my baby, my husband, my family,” she told PEOPLE in May. “I just couldn’t see it coming.”