Two transgender Netflix employees have filed labor charges against the streaming giant in the wake of the Dave Chappelle controversy, alleging the company retaliated against them for speaking out against the comedian’s most recent special.
The charges, filed Wednesday with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of B. Pagels-Minor and Terra Field, allege Netflix fired Pagels-Minor, who is non-binary, “based upon false and pretextual reasons” after they organized the Oct. 20 company walkout in protest of the Chappelle special and Netflix’s response to the controversy.
The document also states that Field, who identifies herself on Twitter as a senior software engineer at Netflix, has been “subjected to retaliation and threats” for speaking out about Pagels-Minor’s “wrongful termination.”
“This charge is not just about B. and Terra, and it’s not about Dave. It’s about trying to change the culture and having an impact for others,” the employees’ attorney Laurie Burgess said in a statement. “The charge is all about collective action. It’s about supporting your coworkers and speaking up for things you care about.”
Netflix denies retaliating against any employees for speaking out.
“We recognize the hurt and pain caused to our trans colleagues over the last few weeks. But we want to make clear that Netflix has not taken any action against employees for either speaking up or walking out,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement Friday to USA TODAY.
In his special “The Closer,” Chappelle attempts to juxtapose the pace of civil rights gained by LGBTQ people over those fought for by the Black community, doubles down on criticism that his sets punch down on the most vulnerable, and expresses solidarity with “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who drew backlash in 2019 for conflating sex with gender.
“I agree, man,” Chappelle said in his special, amid base jokes about trans bodies. “Gender is a fact.”
According to Burgess, the NLRB will conduct an investigation into the filed labor charges. If the organization finds merit to the allegations, it will issue a complaint against Netflix. If Netflix, the NLRB and the two employees cannot reach a settlement, then the NLRB will pursue a case against Netflix, Burgess says, which could result in Pagels-Minor getting their job back, along with backpay.
“Terra and B. are both speaking up not just to protect themselves, but to also get a dialogue going to increase protections for LGBTQ workers not only in Netflix but also in the world,” Burgess says. “They’re trying to raise consciousness of the world transgender folks are living in.”
Pagels-Minor alleges they were fired hours after announcing they organized the planned walkout, according to the charges filed.
Netflix has previously said that an unidentified employee was fired for leaking details including how much Netflix had paid for “The Closer” (a reported $24.1 million), along with the special’s viewership (10 million) to Bloomberg.
Pagels-Minor, who is 35 weeks pregnant, has said they were the accused employee. They have denied sharing any data with the press.
Netflix said through a spokesperson on Oct. 25 that “the employee admitted sharing confidential information externally from their Netflix email on several occasions. Also, they were the only employee to access detailed, sensitive data on four titles that later appeared in the press,” in a statement to USA TODAY
The employees’ Friday NLRB filing also says Netflix put Field on administrative leave while the company investigated her for attending a virtual business meeting that she and hundreds of other Netflix employees were invited to attend. “After completing its ‘investigation’ of Field, Netflix absolved Field of any misconduct and she returned to work,” the charges state.
Field shared on Twitter at the time that Netflix had “reinstated me after finding there was no ill-intent in my attending the QBR meeting.”
According to an Associated Press report on Oct. 11, a person familiar with the matter said three employees joined a quarterly meeting for company directors and vice presidents without gaining authorization. The person, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the situation publicly, said one worker was suspended as a result of an investigation.
“Rights exist to be exercised and defended, and nobody will silence me in my defense of myself, my coworkers, or my community,” Field tweeted Friday, along with a breaking article from The Verge about the labor charges.
The charges come days after Chappelle posted an Instagram video of what appeared to be a recording of a recent live set, in which he offered “some conditions” to speak with transgender people about his Netflix special.
“You will not summon me. I am not bending to anybody’s demands,” he said.
At the Netflix company walkout, transgender protester Ashlee Marie Preston said Chappelle had previously ignored multiple requests to speak with members of the trans community.
Supporters of the transgender community formed a nearby rally on the day of the Netflix walkout and presented a list of demands to Netflix executives that were later shared by the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD.
Contributing: Jenna Ryu, David Oliver, USA TODAY; Associated Press