More Chappelle fallout: Netflix employees file charges against the company

(Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP, File)

Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix comedy special, The Closer, continues to bring headlines. The latest occurred Friday when it was announced that two Netflix employees filed labor charges against the streaming service. One employee was fired after organizing a walk-out against Netflix over the Chappelle show, the other was suspended after posting a viral tweet thread. The employees are claiming it was retaliation on the part of Netflix against them exercising their First Amendment rights.

The Closer delves into transgender issues and the fact that Chappelle has been harassed and threatened by transgendered people hoping to cancel him. The comedy special reaps controversy as have other Chappelle comedy specials. Chappelle hits everyone and that is what makes him appealing to such large audiences.

Two employees at Netflix, one transgender and one non-binary decided to push the envelope to protest Netflix’s involvement and support of Chappelle. B. Pagels-Minor, a black non-binary program manager organized a walkout at Netflix. Terra Field, a trans software engineer, was suspended after posting a tweet thread that went viral on the trans controversy. These are but two employees out of almost 10,000 Netflix employees. They weren’t fired as retaliation for their actions against the company, says Netflix. Pagels-Minor allegedly leaked confidential information and Field was suspended for crashing a meeting she wasn’t supposed to attend. The two filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Now, the employees are filing unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. They say Netflix’s actions were designed to stop workers from speaking out about their working conditions, including the desire to create a safe environment for Netflix staff.

“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,” says attorney Laurie Burgess. “The charge is all about collective action. It’s about supporting your coworkers and speaking up for things you care about.”

Why you may ask (I did) did they file with the NLRB instead of state court? It’s a way to get out of going through private arbitration.

Filing with the NLRB supports the goal of collective action. But it’s also an easier choice than filing in state court, as both Pagels-Minor and Field signed Netflix employment agreements that require them to resolve disputes in private arbitration, a process that tends to favor the employer. (This is common at large tech companies, though both Google and Activision Blizzard have recently ended forced arbitration due to employee organizing efforts.)

The NLRB investigates all charges it receives. If it finds the allegations have merit, it can try to secure a settlement or, if that fails, issue a complaint. For employees, the best-case scenario outside of settling is getting reinstated with backpay and forcing Netflix to post a notice that workers are allowed to engage in protected activity.

Ok. Simple enough. They obviously have received legal advice that going to the NLRB is their best bet. Netflix denies their claims.

In a carefully worded statement, Netflix implied Pagels-Minor was the source behind a Bloomberg story that contained internal metrics about how much Netflix paid for The Closer. The narrative then spread in the media, though employees who spoke to The Verge said they didn’t believe it was true. After Pagels-Minor was fired, Bloomberg continued to publish stories containing internal metrics about Netflix shows.

In a statement emailed to The Verge after the original publication of this article, a Netflix spokesperson denied retaliating against employees. “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.”

One of the employees is 35 weeks pregnant and now faces the loss of health insurance as she prepares to give birth. There’s an attempt to claim victimization, though, that doesn’t really ring true.

B., who is 35 weeks pregnant, is now about to lose their health insurance. “Amidst all the stress, I am trying to take one day at a time and focus on my health,” they said in an interview with The Verge. “As a high-risk pregnancy, I have to be careful. We don’t even know what our health insurance situation is, and we are scheduled to be in a hospital having a baby in less than 30 days.”

Field has applied for medical leave from Netflix. Since speaking out, she has received a credible death threat and been doxxed. “This is what happens with trans people — we’re tolerated as long as we’re quiet, but if we speak up we get harassed,” she says in an interview with The Verge. “It has been a really stressful few weeks, but I intend to keep fighting for our community.”

Actions have consequences. Field had to have known that Netflix wouldn’t be thrilled with the Twitter thread. One day after the suspension, though, she was reinstated. The company’s trans employee resource group staged a walkout on October 20. Field barged into a meeting and that brought consequences. Any employee would face action over that. As to the claim of a death threat and being doxxed, while it is not acceptable behavior, it certainly isn’t just trans people dealing with that behavior from opponents. It happens frequently in politics.

Chappelle says he is happy to sit down and talk with the discontented employees but he’ll not bow to them. Why should he? His First Amendment rights are the same as theirs. Chappelle being anti-trans is a matter of interpretation. I watched his comedy special and didn’t find him to be anti-trans. He speaks poignantly about a friendship he developed with a transgender comic and when she died, Chappelle set up a trust fund for her daughter. Chappelle cracks crude jokes at the expense of everyone but that his brand. His controversial routines are what bring ticket sales.

Speaking of which, it is hard to argue Chappelle has been canceled, given the ticket sales of recent concerts. He and Joe Rogan co-headlined a concert in New Orleans Thursday night and it was a sold-out event. The two set a record for the most tickets ever sold for a single event a Smoothie King Center. The arena holds in excess of 17,000 people. Chappelle told the audience, “In the middle of me being canceled, we broke the attendance record.” The box office take is reported to be about $1.5M. He said the event followed “the worst three weeks of my life.”

And, yeah, Chappelle tossed a little more fuel on the fire.

When an audience member offered a cup of beer, Chappelle, who was sipping something all night, declined out of fear it might be spiked with “transgender formula.”

A well-dressed bodyguard took a guest turn on the microphone mid-show to sing, as he did during last Sunday’s show in Nashville, Tennessee. Chappelle’s revelation that one of his bodyguards previously played for the Dallas Cowboys was met with a chorus of boos.

“Sounds like someone’s team loses a lot,” Chappelle retorted.

When the audience objected further, he quipped, “Don’t go all trans on me.”

Why did he need bodyguards? “Because these transgenders are trying to kill me!”

It’s Chappelle. People like him. Jokes are funny.