Two Netflix employees at the heart of the Dave Chappelle controversy have filed labor charges against the company, alleging the streaming giant retaliated against them for engaging in protected activity.
B. Pagels-Minor, a Black trans program manager, was fired while organizing a walkout related to Netflix’s support of Chappelle’s comedy special The Closer, which has been widely condemned as transphobic. Terra Field, a trans software engineer, was suspended after posting a viral tweet thread about the issue.
Netflix said it fired Pagels-Minor for allegedly leaking confidential information — a charge they have categorically denied. The company said Field was suspended for attending a director-level meeting she wasn’t supposed to, though it reinstated her after finding no ill intent. In the charge, Field says she and hundreds of other Netflix employees were invited to attend the meeting.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is continuing to stand by the special, although he’s walked back previous claims that “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
Earlier this week, a Verge investigation found that in 2020, Netflix suppressed search results after the controversy around the film Cuties to quell public outrage. The company did not take similar steps for The Closer.
The trans employee resource group released a list of demands ahead of the October 20th walkout. They want Netflix to invest in trans creators and revise internal processes on commissioning potentially harmful content.
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